Nov 16, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic (9) celebrates after scoring against the New Orleans Pelicans during the second half at Amway Center. The Magic won 89-82. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
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Nikola Vucevic trade rumors haven’t died down, so which teams should pick up the phone if the Orlando Magic make him available? Here are five options.
Ibaka was a no-brainer deal, since he was never going to re-sign with a 21-37 team in free agency this summer. But as general manager Rob Hennigan has flushed assets down the toilet over and over against, there’s hardly anyone on the Magic’s roster who’s safe.
We’ve already heard Elfrid Payton‘s name come up in the past few months, but for today, we’ll keep the focus in the frontcourt with another player rumored to be on Orlando’s trade block: Nikola Vucevic.
Nikola Vucevic trade rumors date back to December, when an ESPN podcast with Zach Lowe and Brian Windhorst named Payton and Vucci Mane as two possible trade candidates for the Magic. Back then, Orlando was still within reach of a playoff spot, so it’s possible the team’s focus has shifted from the postseason to the inevitable rebuild that’s coming.
If that’s the case, Payton — who has played much better over the last few weeks despite still being relegated to bench duty — might be safe. But what of the 26-year-old Vucevic, who still has $25 million and two years left on his contract after this season?
Even with Ibaka gone, Orlando’s frontcourt is still a bit crowded. Aaron Gordon needs to play his true position at the 4, while the Magic just signed center Bismack Biyombo to a massive four-year, $72 million contract last summer. That could leave Vucevic as the odd man out, unless he’s more willing to either embrace shared minutes at the 5 or accept a bench role.
If the Magic aren’t done making moves, which teams might be interested in Vucevic’s 13.9 points, 10.0 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.0 blocks per game, along with his defensive flaws? Here’s a look at five potential Nikola Vucevic trades and why they might fall through.
Nov 23, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic (9) and Phoenix Suns center Alex Len (21) battle for a rebound during the first quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
As the Sixers move toward being more competitive, Vucevic is a useful veteran who could help in the future without doing toomuch in the here and now to sabotage the value of Philly’s 2017 first round pick.
However, as much as the Magic would get younger at center with Okafor, if the whole point of trading Okafor is to free up more time at the 5-spot for the Sixers, why would they trade for another center? It’s a nice thought for Orlando, but not a likely one from Philly’s perspective.
Timberwolves get C – Nikola Vucevic
Magic get PG – Ricky Rubio
Ricky Rubio‘s name has popped up several times in NBA trade rumors, with the Minnesota Timberwolves viewing rookie Kris Dunn as their point guard of the future. With the Magic being so unsure of Elfrid Payton’s status as a franchise point guard, bringing in Rubio could make some sense.
The Wolves would get a proven bench scorer or someone who could supplant Gorgui Dieng in the starting lineup if they aren’t 100 percent certain he’s suited for a starter’s role on a playoff team yet.
However, Dunn is nowhere near ready to take over at the point, and even if he was, the Wolves have more pressing needs than adding another big to the mix, which means they could do better in a Rubio trade than this. As for Orlando, Rubio is a more proven commodity at the 1, but like Payton, his lack of a perimeter jumper would create the same problems on offense.
Suns get C – Nikola Vucevic
Magic get C – Alex Len SF – P.J. Tucker
Alex Len‘s restricted free agency presents a dilemma for the Phoenix Suns, since they still don’t really know what he is. But this 23-year-old enigma could be of interest to the Magic, since he’s three years younger than Vucevic, and they’d be able to match all offers for him this summer.
P.J. Tucker would give the Magic a useful defensive wing, and though he’s an unrestricted free agent this summer, they could likely afford his price tag this summer. The Suns, meanwhile, would get a more proven center on a fair contract, helping them avoid Len’s free agency if they so choose.
However, the Suns love Tucker and may prefer to keep the younger big — restricted free agency and all. The Magic also may have problems committing to two players who will be free agents this summer, especially when they’d be giving up the best player in the deal.
Jan 8, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic (9) guards Los Angeles Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson (6) in the second half of the game at Staples Center. Lakers won 112-95. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
5. Los Angeles Lakers
The Los Angeles Lakers are a proud and once prestigious franchise, and though their youth movement was exciting at first, optimism has come crashing back down to earth ever since the team’s unsustainable 7-5 start. They call them “growing pains” for a reason.
D’Angelo Russell has dealt with injuries and, simply put, hasn’t been very good. Jordan Clarkson is a useful bench scorer, but little else. Jordan Randle has shown the most promise to this point, but that’s not saying much. Brandon Ingram has teetered much closer to “draft bust” territory than “next franchise star.”
That’s not to say the Lakers should panic and start dealing away developing players for proven talent, but in a frontcourt that’s featured heavy doses of Tarik Black and Timofey Mozgov, a slight upgrade could be in order, especially if they can get Mozzy’s disastrous four-year, $64 million contract off the books.
Lakers get C – Nikola Vucevic
Magic get C – Timofey Mozgov Future 1st round pick
In this deal, the Magic have to take on one of the worst contracts in the league, but they also net a future first round pick for their troubles — one that could potentially be valuable as the Lakers continue to suffer from delusion that their rebuild shouldn’t take that much longer.
The Lakers, meanwhile, get that appalling Mozgov contract off the books and add a walking double-double to their starting lineup. Ivica Zubac can learn from Vucevic until he’s ready to surpass him as the Lakers’ starting center.
However, taking on that Mozgov contract is a heavy burden when the Lakers may not be able to offer a first-rounder until 2021 (if they send this year’s top-three protected pick to Philly and a 2019 first-rounder to Orlando, that is).
Huh. Forgot that if the #Lakers convey this year’s 1st rounder to Philly, they ALSO send a 2019 1st rounder to Orlando. They NEED this pick
A first-rounder of any sort might be pushing it for the Lakers in a Vucevic swap, especially since they could just keep what they have and let Zubac benefit from a dearth of frontcourt talent. As for the Magic, they could probably do better on the trade market anyway.
Dec 28, 2015; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic guards New Orleans Pelicans center Alexis Ajinca (right) controls the ball during the fourth quarter of a basketball game at Amway Center. The Magic won 104-89. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
4. New Orleans Pelicans
The New Orleans Pelicans are desperate to add long-term talent around Anthony Davis, as their reported trade interest in Jahlil Okafor clearly shows. Okafor is younger and might have a higher ceiling in a best-case scenario, but Vucevic would be a less risky alternative.
AD doesn’t like playing the center spot, so even though Vucci Mane is hardly the defensive anchor the Pelicans need to shift the Brow to the 4 for good, he’s a serviceable center who’d take some of the pressure off the NBA’s 27th ranked offense, spreading the floor to the midrange and helping on the boards.
Solomon Hill‘s contract was a reach at the time it was signed, and his underwhelming 6.7 points and 3.7 rebounds per game on sub-40 percent shooting have hardly justified it. It’d probably cost the Pellies a future first round pick, but don’t forget this is a team that’s trying to assemble a championship roster in the near future; picks in the next few years may not be as valuable to them.
Pelicans get C – Nikola Vucevic
Magic get SF – Solomon Hill Future 1st round pick
Hill is hardly an attractive return, but he’d provide the Magic with another wing to prepare for Jeff Green‘s free agency departure. The first-rounder would be the real prize, even though it’d have to be in a couple of years to convince New Orleans to consider offering one at all.
However, as much as Vucevic would help one of the league’s worst offenses, giving up a rotation player and a future first might be too large of an asking price for the Pelicans. For a rebuilding team like the Magic, that first-rounder would be far more useful if it were a 2017 or 2018 first-rounder, which NOLA would be hard-pressed to surrender as a current lottery team.
Feb 11, 2017; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki (41) guards Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic (9) during the first quarter at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
3. Dallas Mavericks
Andrew Bogut is not the same player he was with the Golden State Warriors, so even if his contract didn’t come off the books this summer, the Dallas Mavericks would need a long-term solution at center leading into the 2017-18 campaign.
Nikola Vucevic isn’t the sexiest name on the market, but he’d definitely be an upgrade unless the Mavs suddenly decided Salah Mejri is the answer. Mark Cuban has repeatedly opted for short-term fixes to keep the team competitive in Dirk Nowitzki‘s final years, and a move like this wouldn’t be shocking in the slightest.
Hammering out a deal would once again depend on when the Mavs offered a first-rounder, since the players involved in a potential deal here would be washed up veterans. Our first example is Bogut and a future first for Vucevic.
Mavericks get C – Nikola Vucevic
Magic get C – Andrew Bogut Future 1st round pick
Bogut is 32, he’s injury-prone and he’d be almost guaranteed to leave Orlando in free agency this summer, but including him in the deal would simply be to balance salaries with Vucevic, since the Mavs like Dwight Powell and would probably try to avoid including him.
The first-rounder — assuming it’s not too far in the near future — would aid Orlando in its inevitable rebuild through the draft.
Magic get PG – Deron Williams SF – Dorian Finney-Smith Future 1st round pick
D-Will’s $9 million salary also comes off the books this summer, but he could be a useful mentor for Payton in his limited time in Orlando, and perhaps the market for him wouldn’t be hectic enough to prevent the Magic from re-signing him as a steadier presence at the 1.
Finney-Smith is a 23-year-old rotation player averaging 4.4 points in 20.8 minutes per game on 39.4 percent shooting, but perhaps he would get a chance to grow with a rebuilding team like Orlando.
Even if he didn’t, either his salary or Nicolas Brussino‘s would be needed to make a deal centered around Vucevic and D-Will deal work financially.
Mavericks get C – Nikola Vucevic
Magic get PG – Deron Williams SF – Nicolas Brussino Future 1st round pick
However, knowing the Magic, a Vucevic trade may not be about rebuilding as much as freeing up frontcourt minutes for Aaron Gordon and Bismack Biyombo at their true positions. If that’s the case, they’ll want useful players who can help them make the leap to the playoffs next year, rather than just be two-month rentals.
As for the Mavs, they may prefer to put all their eggs in the free agency basket rather than trade away first round picks, contrary to what Cuban’s history indicates.
Jan 27, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic (9) drives the ball against Boston Celtics forward Amir Johnson (90) in the second quarter at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
2. Boston Celtics
To be perfectly honest, Serge Ibaka made more sense as a top trade target for the Boston Celtics, much like Paul Millsap would if the Atlanta Hawks weren’t dead-set on keeping him. This team’s biggest need is still at the 4, and barring a superstar trade that guts Boston of assets and rotation players, the best options may be off the table already.
But since we’ve already heard the Celtics have talked with the Magic about a potential Nikola Vucevic trade, we have to include a couple of potential scenarios that involve the NBA’s 28th-ranked rebounding team.
Though Vucci Mane would hardly help the league’s 18th-ranked defense in Boston, his rebounding prowess would definitely help cover Al Horford‘s deficiencies in that area. If the Celtics could get away with something like Tyler Zeller and a future first-rounder, they should at least entertain the idea.
Celtics get C – Nikola Vucevic
Magic get C – Tyler Zeller Future 1st round pick
Zeller a fringe rotation player in Boston, but he’s a capable backup center who’d allow the Celtics to keeps their rotation intact while bringing Vucevic into the fold. The Magic would push for one of the Celtics’ first round picks from the Brooklyn Nets, but Vucevic is hardly valuable enough to warrant surrendering one of those.
If Zeller and a non-Nets pick isn’t good enough, perhaps parting with Amir Johnson and the same non-Nets pick would do the trick.
Celtics get C – Nikola Vucevic
Magic get PF – Amir Johnson Future 1st round pick
Johnson is a versatile defender and extremely underrated power forward in this league, contrary to what his 6.5 points and 4.6 rebounds per game might indicate. He’s efficient on his limited touches, shooting 57.3 percent from the floor and 40.9 percent from deep on 0.8 attempts per game.
That kind of player could be useful whether the Magic want to compete for a playoff spot in 2018 or prefer to rebuild and need veteran presences for the youngsters.
Magic get PF – Jonas Jerebko PG – Terry Rozier SG – James Young
Jerebko is a downgrade from Johnson, but he’d fill some of the same needs. Rozier is still only 22 years old, so it’s too soon to worry about his .370/.331/.765 shooting splits. Young would admittedly be something of a gamble, but a team like the Magic should be taking those kinds of chances as they undergo yet another rebuild.
However, Rozier was reportedly considered off limits in Boston’s trade talks with Orlando over Serge Ibaka, so foolish as it seems, it’s highly unlikely he’d be included in a Vucevic trade. Plus, a package centered around Rozier couldn’t possibly be the best offer Orlando gets for their big man.
The Magic may press too hard for a Brooklyn pick from Boston as well. The Celtics would wisely decline such advances, and if the inclusion of such a pick became the dividing line, a deal would never get done here.
Feb 1, 2017; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic (9) shoots over Indiana Pacers forward Lavoy Allen (5) during the first quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
1. Indiana Pacers
Is this the trade the Indiana Pacers need to get their season back on track? It’s hard to say for sure. But with Al Jefferson being deadweight and the Pacers entering the All-Star break riding a six-game losing streak, Vucevic is a perfectly attainable option.
While Magic fans would hardly be blamed for not being jazzed about trading for a 32-year-old Al Jefferson (plus the remaining two years and $20 million left on his contract), netting a first-rounder either 2017 or 2018 would make it worth it.
Pacers get C – Nikola Vucevic
Magic get C – Al Jefferson Future 1st round pick
Though that pick would likely fall somewhere in the late teens or early 20s over the next year or so, that’s acceptable value for a double-double who can’t defend like Vucevic. Jefferson could be a veteran mentor for Gordon and Biyombo in the meantime.
Averaging 8.5 points and 4.3 rebounds in 14.6 minutes per game off the bench, it’s not like Jefferson is completely washed either. He hasn’t lived up to expectations in Indiana as a Sixth Man of the Year dark horse, but he’s still shooting 50.6 percent from the floor and could be a decent — not great, but decent — bench piece in Orlando.
Though the Pacers would have to get Vucevic to buy into another bench role — this time behind the 20-year-old Myles Turner — they’d be able to sell him on the idea of being a super-sub for an actual playoff team.
Some might say the Pacers are in need of a bigger roster blowup, since the Jeff Teague–Paul George–Thaddeus Young-Myles Turner core hasn’t blown anyone away. But let’s face it: Midseason blowups are tricky, and for a team that currently holds a playoff spot, an easier alternative would be retooling for the postseason.
However, the NBA’s 19th-ranked defense doesn’t need another poor interior defender, even if their 14th-ranked offense would enjoy the boost.
If Larry Bird no longer believes this core can contend in the future, adding another piece to it wouldn’t make as much sense as keeping the team’s first-rounder, adding him to Turner as the Pacers’ future core and restructuring the rest of the roster over the summer.