The Orlando Magic trading All-Star center Nikola Vucevic didn’t surprise anyone.
The team is currently second from the bottom in the Eastern Conference with a 15-29 record. They’ve been stuck in purgatory for years as a team that was just good enough to get smoked in the first round, but not awful enough to land a top-3 draft pick.
The rumors have been swirling for weeks that the Magic might trade their prized big-man. But what surprised people is who came in and stole him.
The Chicago Bulls unexpectedly joined the sweepstakes, and won. They traded Otto Porter Jr., Wendell Carter Jr. and two future first-round picks for Nikola Vucevic plus Al-Farouq Aminu, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.
So why did a team currently in the tenth seed in the East, and five games under .500 pull this move off?
For starters, the East is wacky. That is the best possible way to describe it. Even though the Bulls have only four more wins than the Magic, they are also only three games back from the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Atlanta Hawks just showed us that if you rip-off a great week and a half, you can firmly put yourself in the playoff picture.
With Zach Lavine entering the final year of his deal next season, the Bulls want to start building a winning culture if they want the first time All-Star to stay. Vucevic is 30, and does not want to wait around for another Magic rebuild.
Pairing Lavine and Vucevic together should create offensive fireworks on the floor.
When those two run pick-and-rolls together Lavine will be able to easily cook Vuecevic’s defender if he gets switched onto him, and if the defense decides to play a more drop coverage, then Lavine can draw the defenders to the basket and swing it back out to Vucevic, who can knock down a shot from distance.
As the roll man, Vucevic is leading the NBA in points (269), while Lavine is fourth (478) in points as the ball handler. The Bulls are fifth in pick-and-roll points per game as a team, so combining two of the best in those situations should give opposing defenses nightmares.
We’ve already seen a micro-version of this with Lavine and Lauri Markkanen. But now the Bulls can put both of those guys on the floor, and really space defenses out. They can even get creative and use both of them in the pick-and-roll together.
And let’s face it - free agents of Nikola Vucevic’s elk don’t normally sign with the Chicago Bulls.
The Bulls are great at getting a meeting with the top free agents on the market, but they tend to finish as just a finalist - cc Carmelo Anthony. Or they get the “past their prime” All-Stars, like a Dwyane Wade or Pau Gasol.
Nikola Vucevic is better than any player they could have gotten on the open market - and you get him while he’s having a career year. He’s currently averaging 24.5 points (career-high), 11.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and shooting 40.6% from three on 6.5 attempts (both career-highs).
No one is mistaking the Bulls as title contenders. But a core of Lavine, Markkanen, Vucevic, Thaddeus Young, Patrick Williams, and Coby White could be super feisty in a first round matchup. If the franchise keeps adding to that stability, and continues to promote a winning culture - they won’t be championship contenders this year, but they may not be too far off from being a formidable playoff team.
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