Centre Nikola Vucevic has been one of the NBA’s surprise performers this season.
The Orlando Magic big man is having a career year, averaging career-highs in total rebounds, blocks, assists and points. He is shooting a career-best 37% from three-point range too, hitting 1.2 threes per game.
Orlando are desperate to return to the playoffs, having not done so since 2012. Vucevic’s All-Star level performances have given the Magic a sniff. A recent downturn, though, winning just three of their last 10 and losing four in a row, has seen Orlando drop off the pace.
Below the big five, the Eastern Conference is very weak. The Magic are far from out of it, but two teams and 4.5 games currently separate them from the eighth spot.
The front office, between now and the trade deadline, face a big decision about whether to buy or sell. Maybe they choose to do nothing.
Hosting just two playoff games would be huge for basketball in Orlando and serve as a reminder that their team is heading in the right direction after a long rebuild. The question could come down to how desperate they are to play postseason basketball, balancing that with their chances of actually making it.
The Magic play Indiana, Brooklyn and Oklahoma City before the 7th February trade deadline. Losing all three should force the front office’s hand and make them sell. Winning one or two would create a dilemma.
Vucevic, with his $12.75 million salary, is their primary trade chip. He and Terrence Ross are both free agents at season’s end and would have plenty of suitors should Orlando opt to sell.
Trading Vucevic might be seen as throwing the towel in on the season by Orlando’s fans. It is the pragmatic choice. They are not winning a playoff series this season, meaning losing Vucevic for nothing in the summer would be foolish.
Mohamed Bamba and Jonathan Isaac have a long way to go, developing those two should be the priority in the remainder of the campaign. It could get ugly with Bamba getting more minutes and Vucevic on a different team, but that’s okay. Improving Isaac and Bamba – two lottery picks – is the only way the Magic can become a force. Enhancing their lottery odds is hardly a disaster.
Charlotte and Washington could both be interested in Vucevic as they further their own playoff pushes. Letting the probable All-Star go to Eastern Conference rivals is not ideal but acquiring a pick or two for Vucevic is the best long-term option for Orlando.
The lure of the playoffs is understandable. The Magic are bored of the mid-lottery wilderness. At the moment, though, they are trending in the wrong direction and keeping Vucevic just risks extending their postseason drought.
The 28-year-old centre will be a difference-maker for a contender, his ability to shoot the three and pass is invaluable. He is, outside of Anthony Davis, the man to watch ahead of the trade deadline.