The Orlando Magic have a valuable trade chip in center Nikola Vucevic, is it time they cashed it in?
Much has been made of the Orlando Magic’s roster composition heading into the new season. People have absolutely no clue what Hennigan’s end game is after attaining not one, but two shot-blocking behemoths from the Democratic Republic of Congo to help overcrowd an already pretty crowded frontcourt that also contains Aaron Gordon, Jeff Green and the incumbent starting center, Nikola Vucevic.
The rotation appears pretty solid, if a little too top-heavy compared to their ball-handling guard depth of Elfrid Payton and Elfrid Payton’s hair. Essentially; one of these guys is getting traded. This is inevitably not Aaron Gordon, who is quickly (and rightfully) becoming the face of the franchise. It isn’t a member of the Congo Line, either, as we gave up one whole Victor Oladipo for Ibaka and one whole canvas sack filled with 72 million one dollar notes for Biyombo. That’s how NBA players get paid, by the way. Which leaves us with Jeff Green’s one year, already expiring contract and Nikola Vucevic.
Vooch, it looks like you’re getting moved, son.
This is sad. Can we just take a minute to acknowledge that this is quite sad? Thank you.
Vucevic is a very good basketball player and has almost acted as an offense unto himself. Over the last few years, the Magic have featured very few guys who can actually shoot, which has meant a huge amount of offense was created by Vucevic working in the low post or pick and popping from mid-range. At times, I think Magic players tended to just chuck up bad shots so Vooch could grab the offensive board and go from wherever he landed. It was easier than, you know, passing and ball movement and all that stuff. To lose the franchises only real scorers beyond Evan Fournier would be a huge blow to a team who already look destined to scrape together 80 points a night.
Vogel is a defensive-minded coach, and a very good one at that, as we already know that from his time in Indiana and Roy Hibbert’s subsequent demise into a virtual currency, a Laker, Kobe Bryant’s human trash can, and finally, a Charlotte Hornet reserve. The Magic’s acquisitions of both Ibaka and Biyombo, two players known for their defensive presence, seems to suggest which end of the floor the Magic will be focusing on. Which is no bad thing, forcing turnovers and contesting shots at the rim will undoubtedly help their stagnant offense get easy looks in transition. However, without a go-to scorer (the aforementioned Fournier isn’t quite there yet), Vogel might struggle to grind out wins in tight games. After all, whilst Indiana were predominately a defensive team, they still had Paul George and even David West who could be counted on for easy buckets when the offense was stalling. Without Vucevic, the Magic’s half-court sets could simply deteriorate into Payton throwing oops from 40 feet out and Biyombo and Ibaka catapulting Aaron Gordon into the air like a human trampoline to dunk the ball with the force of a thousand suns. Whilst I think this could still be an effective strategy, I’m not sure if it would be reliable, or even within the rules of basketball.
All this means that a potential trade would come down to what sort of return the Magic could get for Vucevic. Fortunately, the Lakers exist and decided to give Timofey Mozgov 64 million one dollar notes in a canvas sack, which means Vucevic’s own $12 million a year until 2018-19 is very, very desirable. He’s a guy that could easily average 20 and 10 on a good team, he nearly has on several bad Magic rosters. The downside comes in the shape of his mediocre at best rim protection, which, if it was a shape, would be the shape of a traffic cone or Yi Jianlian’s chair. Which aren’t even shapes, really. In the modern NBA, a 5 who cannot protect the rim is a problem, particularly if he also cannot switch onto guards in the pick and roll, which Vucevic absolutely cannot do as he was the maneuverability of a large ferry.
Overall, Vucevic is a very nice trade chip; a Vucevoucher, if you will. Should GM Rob Hennigan get any sniff of a trade involving a competent, ball-handling guard who can score in bunches, I think he’ll pull the trigger. Otherwise, I would wait. There are no guarantees Ibaka stays beyond this season, and that would mean a stacked frontcourt quickly transforms into Bismack Biyombo, who despite his playoff exploits last season, has yet to prove himself as a starter in this league. The Magic need to see what they have with this roster as it stands and should be in no rush to make moves even if the team are slow out of the gate. On paper, Vucevic and Ibaka’s skillsets fit nicely without much overlap, the only similarity being that both can stretch the floor; vital when your point guard is a non-shooter. Hennigan doesn’t lose many trades, but the Tobias Harris deal last season looms large in recent memory and I fear another similar move could dismantle a promising core, come the trade deadline.
The Magic are trying to push a ‘win-now’ mentality, but their team is too young and raw to be forcing trades for guys as good as Vucevic. I hope they wait. And maybe try out the ‘Gordon trampoline’ offensive set just once.