We have our first surprise of the trade deadline, as the Magic are parting ways with All-Star center Nikola Vucevic. Orlando is sending Vooch and Al-Farouq Aminu to the Bulls in exchange for Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr., and two-first round picks, according to multiple reports. ESPN was first to report Vucevic would be heading to Chicago. (And our Michael Pina was maybe the first to predict this trade.)
The Bulls entered Deadline Day in 10th place in the East. Vucevic, a two-time All-Star, is averaging 24.5 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 3.8 assists per game this season. Carter, the No. 7 pick in 2018, is averaging 10.9 points and 7.8 rebounds a night in his third season. Let’s grade the deal for each side.
This is a good move for Chicago, who was in a nebulous position entering Thursday. Would the front office be aggressive or play it safe? Vucevic is one of the most underrated bigs in the league, and he should be able to form a powerful one-two offensive punch with Zach LaVine. The center is also signed through 2023 on an extremely team-friendly deal, making $24 million next season and $22 million the year after that.
Vooch should be an extremely reliable second option for Chicago’s offense. He can run pick-and-pops with LaVine or certainly get his own bucket every now and then as well. The Bulls are ranked 18th in offensive efficiency, and Vucevic should help juice that number. At 30 years old, Vucevic may be slightly older than Chicago’s core, though signing him to one more contract beyond his current one would seem like a no-brainer down the line. It’s never easy to give up on a lottery pick, but Carter’s fit with the current group was questionable, and with LaVine’s play on the rise, Chicago should (and now projects to be) more of a playoff fixture in the East. It’s a nice step forward for a franchise that’s only made the playoffs once since 2016.
Orlando seems ready to move on from its higher-priced vets, and the timing makes sense. With multiple younger players dealing with injuries (Markelle Fultz, Jonathan Isaac) this has been a rough season for the Magic. Even if letting go of Vooch after all his success not even halfway through his contract has to sting, this is the right move for the Magic. Carter had been injured for much of his Bulls tenure, and his role at times fluctuating. If he’s able to stay on the court consistently, he still has plenty of years to tap into the potential that made him a lottery pick. The Magic can also get a good look at Carter the rest of this season and next before making a decision on extending him. Only 21, Carter will have a chance to grow alongside other prospects in Fultz and Isaac instead of being on a team pressured to make the postseason more immediately.
While Porter Jr. is essentially a large expiring deal (and maybe a buyout candidate), those two first-round picks are valuable. Though both may end up falling outside the lottery, they’ll give the Magic an opportunity to buttress the rotation with more young pieces as they part ways with older players. The rest of 2021 may be pretty bleak in Orlando, but by next season this franchise will be on a much more sensible timeline for the valuable players already in place.