When debating the most skilled center in the NBA, Nikola Vucevic’s name usually isn’t mentioned.
The one-time all-star has been one of the most effective centers in the NBA when it comes to floor spacing and passing. On the season, he is averaging 22.9 points, 11 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and shooting an insane 42.5% from three on 6.2 attempts (both career highs).
The Magic are a team that has barely kept their head above water the last couple of seasons. They’ve been bounced twice in the first round the last two years, only winning one game a piece both series.
Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac are two key players in the Magic’s future, who are going to miss the rest of the season because of injuries. With the Eastern Conference getting considerably stronger with the arrival of James Harden, the Magic’s chances of competing for a title isn’t realistic right now. Instead, they should consider trading Vucevic for a Jrue Holiday-level package and continue to build organically around their young core.
The big man is still locked up for three more seasons at a major bargain. He is scheduled to make $26 million this year, $24 million next year, and $22 million in his final year. For an all-star level player, that is a steal.
The market for teams looking for a center of Vucevic’s caliber isn’t robust, but here are two teams that should kick the tires.
Raptors GM Masai Ujiri is not afraid to swing for the fences and he could hit another home run if he brought Vucevic to “The 6.”
The Raptors biggest weakness right now is their lack of an interior presence. Chris Boucher has been a revelation at center, but he’s still only 6-foot-9 and doesn’t have a low-post game like Vucevic. A starting lineup of Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, and Nikola Vucevic would be devastating to stop. All five players would be threats to score from the outside and Vucevic’s interior game would add a wrinkle to the offense.
Currently, the Raptors are a bottom-five team in the percentage of their total points being scored in the paint (36.2%). They struggle to consistently create easy shots for themselves, but adding Vucevic would give them someone they can throw the ball to down low when the offense gets stagnant and get an automatic bucket.
Vucevic is not regarded as a great defender, but he can certainly hold his own. Plugging him in on one of the best defensive teams in basketball - with a coach like Nick Nurse - should help him take his defensive game to another level.
In return, the Magic would receive Chris Boucher, Norman Powell, and two first-round picks (negotiable). That’s two high level-role players that can fit seamlessly around their young core, plus more assets that can be used as trade bait down the line.
San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs are a team that always wants to be in the mix, but their roster just isn’t good enough right now. Trading for Vucevic would give them enough talent to be an intriguing playoff team.
Foreign born players thrive in the Spurs organization and it wouldn’t be any different for Vucevic. He’s got the skills and intangibles to fit perfectly in the Gregg Poppovich system. His passing from the center spot could unlock so many things Poppovich wants to do offensively. The Spurs could run their offense through him at the high-post and create so many easy opportunities for their young, athletic players who love to slash to the rim.
Not to mention, the Spurs are 19th in percentage of total points being scored in the paint, the arrival of Vucevic could get them near the top-10.
The strong defensive backcourt of Derrick White and Dejounte Murray, and the multi-positional defensive versatility of Keldon Johnson will help cover some of the defensive weaknesses Vucevic has. And Gregg Poppovich is a mastermind at getting his teams to play high-level defense, even when he doesn’t have great defenders on the floor.
Plus, who wouldn’t want to see two former USC teammates in Demar Derozan and Vucevic back together again.
A return of Lonnie Walker, Lamarcus Aldridge and a first-round pick (negotiable) would be very appealing for the Magic. Walker would be another great addition to a growing young core, Aldridge would help establish a culture, and the Magic would get another asset they could use down the line.
Neither trade would lead the A-block on First Take, but both trades help the Magic in the long-term, and the Raptors and Spurs in the short-term.
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