Due to a change in team brass, the Orlando Magic appear headed for an active trade deadline.
New general manager John Hammond, formerly of the Milwaukee Bucks, recently spoke to the Orlando Sentinel about just that. Without full-out saying his new team was about to have a fire sale, it didn’t take detective work to decipher his latest comments:
“There sometimes is a calm before the storm, and history shows the storms start coming in your direction maybe three days before or four days before, and the storms really start hitting 48 to 24 hours before. That doesn’t mean that we’re going to be in the middle of a storm, but we could.”
It appears no one on their roster will be safe, not even their best player, Aaron Gordon. The Athletic’s Michael Scotto reported as much recently.
Nevertheless, it’s quite unlikely Orlando receives an offer enticing enough to trade the high-flying Gordon, who is still just 22 years old and enjoying his most productive season as a professional.
If anything, it’s the vets on the roster who should be most worried about moving. French swingman Evan Fournier, for example, could help contenders with his shooting off screens and underrated playmaking prowess, and could very well become an enticing option as we approach the final hour.
But it’s their man in the middle, Nikola Vucevic, we’re here to talk about.
Although he’s still coming back from a fractured hand suffered late in 2017, the seven-footer, by putting up 17.4 points, 9.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists per outing, was arguably having his best campaign before going down.
Vucevic spaces the floor from the 5-spot, attacks the offensive glass with aplomb and can even hightail it in transition. Although centers are hard to move these days, Orlando’s is on a fantastic contract, which has merely two years and $21.9 million left on it.
As such, a team lacking depth down low could make a move for him, provided they like what they see when they perform his physical.
For our purposes, we’re imagining Vucevic will be healthy within the next few weeks, which would fall in line with the timeline given by the Magic’s doctors when the injury occurred.
Without further ado, let’s look at a few potential trade packages for the Swiss-born big man.
The Bucks’ need for a center has been well-documented as we approach the trade deadline.
John Henson has filled in admirably as their starter at the position since the Greg Monroe trade, averaging 9.5 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.3 blocks since taking over. However, his slight frame gravely affects his rebounding ability and as a team, Milwaukee has suffered for it.
Thus, it makes sense the Bucks have been heavily linked to two behemoth seven-footers with serious board-securing chops in DeAndre Jordan and Hassan Whiteside. The former ranks second in rebound rate among qualified players while the latter ranks third, and both provide substantial rim protection.
There are issues, though, with trying to acquire either. Jordan will likely be a free agent after this season (provided he opts out of the final year of his contract); is it worth losing important assets for what could amount to a short-term rental? Meanwhile, Whiteside has another two years and $52.5 million left on his deal after this season. That’s extremely pricey for a big man who turns 29 this summer. and whose effort is known to wane at times.
So if the Bucks decide to look for help elsewhere at the 5, they could turn to the Magic and Vucevic.
The floor-spacing center is knocking down a healthy 34.3 percent of his triples this season, and is even more accurate from the mid-range. Unlike Whiteside or Jordan, Vucevic’s shooting would provide more room inside for Giannis Antetokounmpo rim forays.
In return for sending over their big man, Orlando could be convinced by a package featuring Malcolm Brogdon and Sterling Brown – two impressive youngsters who aren’t quite stars, but who have the makings of being excellent complementary pieces once they fully develop.
Brogdon is a floor general with a mature game, who spaces the floor from three, can run an offense or adequately play off the ball, while providing hard-nosed defense. And Brown is slightly undersized two-way wing who is starting to come on over recent weeks (8.6 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.3 steals nightly over his last seven outings, while knocking down 40 percent of his triples).
To make the salary swaps work (as well as to reassure the Bucks, who are, after all, losing two very strong assets), Milwaukee could also send over Mirza Teletovic. The sharpshooting wing has, sadly, been sidelined yet again with a recurrence of blood clots, but still has one more year and $10.5 million left on his contract. If he’s ruled ineligible to return as Chris Bosh was, the team wouldn’t be allowed to apply for cap relief from his deal until the one-year mark after his final game played.
By moving him now, the Bucks wouldn’t have to worry about it next season. Meanwhile, the Magic may not be totally against acquiring Teletovic’s contract if it means they also get Brogdon and Brown, who are two excellent pieces they could use as part of their rebuild.
And Milwaukee gets an above-average starting center on what amounts to an extremely fair (by today’s standards) two-year, $25 million contract.
A starting five featuring Eric Bledsoe, Tony Snell, Khris Middleton, Antetokounmpo and Vucevic would be one of the strongest in the East, and that’s not even considering they also have Jabari Parker as their sixth man.
If the Bucks front office wants to prove to their Greek superstar how serious they are about winning, and soon, this is the type of deal they would execute.
Final trade package: Malcolm Brogdon, Sterling Brown, Mirza Teletovic
Portland Trail Blazers
Despite trading for a young, promising center last season, the buzz surrounding the Portland Trail Blazers and their supposed interest in acquiring Jordan from the Clippers hasn’t dissipated.
In a recent episode of the Hoop Collective podcast, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said the likeliest landing spot for the former Team USA big man, outside of staying in Los Angeles, was Portland.
So it stands to reason they may not be as enamored with Nurkic as they once were.
Although the Bosnian big man’s raw statistics give the illusion of positive production, his penchant for long 2s and turnovers has made him quite the inefficient offensive weapon this season.
Perhaps, if Jordan’s asking price remains too high even in the final days leading up to the deadline, the Blazers could look elsewhere for help at the 5, maybe at a team like Orlando.
Not only would Vucevic’s floor spacing and efficient scoring mesh wonderfully with the team’s scorching duo, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, but his defensive rebounding would actually present an upgrade over Nurkic’s.
To make this work, the Magic, seeing as how they likely won’t be attracting big-time free agents anytime soon, could bear the brunt of taking on one of Portland’s various bad contracts, like Meyers Leonard (and his four-year, $41 million deal), while also acquiring a few assets, like Zach Collins and the Blazers’ 2018 first-round pick.
That may seem like a lot to give up for Vucevic, but we shouldn’t discount just how bad Leonard’s contract is. He’s owed another two years and nearly $22 million after 2017-18, yet rarely leaves the bench for head coach Terry Stotts’ team. Essentially, Leonard is currently a 12th man being paid like an average starter. Yikes.
But that would leave the Blazers with both Vucevic and Nurkic on their roster, two big men with very similar skill-sets who can’t very well play together considering the state of modern basketball.
So Portland may feel inclined to add Nurkic to the deal, in return for Mario Hezonja, the young wing who’s finally starting to show signs of life with his recent play.
The Magic are under new management who clearly don’t feel all that attached to the previous regime’s players, hence why they’re so open for business Thus, losing Hezonja wouldn’t really matter to them.
And they would receive a big man in Nurkic who, despite struggling a bit this season, is still just 23 years old. The fact he’s about to hit restricted free agency, which would be a turn-off for most potential suitors, could actually be seen as a positive for the Magic. They get a 40-game sample size with which to judge Nurkic, and if they like what they see, they’re protected from losing him to a rival team.
To recap, this deal would see the Blazers acquire a center who may be a better fit for their roster and a young wing with upside (thus pleasing their star point guard in the process), as well as getting rid of one of the worst contracts in the league; while the Magic land a serviceable young center who hasn’t yet reached his ceiling, a rookie first-round pick, as well as an incoming first-round pick, which basically amounts to a package of two-and-a-half prime assets.
Final trade package: Meyers Leonard, Jusuf Nurkic, Zach Collins, 2018 first-round pick for Nikola Vucevic and Mario Hezonja
The fit here is simple: Washington Wizards’ center Marcin Gortat isn’t as effective as he was in his heyday, making the Wizards need for an upgrade at the position vitally important.
He also recently made surprising comments about wanting to retire as a member of his former team – the Magic – after his contract with Washington runs out.
So why not expedite the process?
To do so, all the Wizards would have to do is send a lottery-protected first-round pick to Orlando, along with the Polish big man. In return, Washington gets a seven-foot 27-year-old on a very team-friendly deal, who will help mightily once the playoffs roll around. Don’t underestimate how important the latter part is either, as the Wizards have one of the league’s most expensive payrolls – if they get bounced in the first round of the playoffs, people may lose their jobs.
A quintuplet of John Wall (once he’s healthy), Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Kelly Oubre and Vucevic would be strong on both ends, as the five pieces should play wonderfully to each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Apart from Wall, the other four members of Washington’s theoretical starting five all shoot the ball well. And apart from Vucevic, his four counterparts are, at the very least, average-to-above-average defenders at their positions.
Considering how much money owner Ted Leonsis is shelling out for this rendition of Wizards basketball, they’re going to need to see a turnaround soon. A trade such as this one would be one way to start the operation.
If they don’t manage to turn things around, they could see themselves taking the Clippers route next season, i.e., trading away huge contracts along with sweeteners in order to kick-start a rebuild – a fate all parties involved would surely rather avoid.
Final trade package: Marcin Gortat and a lottery-protected 2018 first-round pick
You can find Frank Urbina on Twitter @frankurbina_.
HoopsHype’s Alberto de Roa contributed to this article.
Business, Business, Top, Jusuf Nurkic, Malcolm Brogdon, Marcin Gortat, Mario Hezonja, Meyers Leonard, Mirza Teletovic, Nikola Vucevic, Sterling Brown, Zach Collins, Milwaukee Bucks, Orlando Magic, Portland Trail Blazers, Washington Wizards