Keeping Nikola Vucevic was a necessity for Orlando Magic

Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic, Joe Harris, Brooklyn Nets

BROOKLYN, NY – JANUARY 23: Nikola Vucevic #9 of the Orlando Magic drives to the basket during the game against the Brooklyn Nets on January 23, 2019 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Orlando Magic opted to bring back Nikola Vucevic on a four-year deal. For the team to keep winning in the short-term, it was clearly the right move.

Entering the 2019 offseason, there was a lot of hand-wringing and heated debate among Orlando Magic fans.

Yes, the team made the playoffs and had its breakthrough moment. The team surprised everyone with a 42-40 season and earned some form of league-wide respect. The national media may not have taken note of the Magic explicitly, but other teams around the league certainly understood what the Magic accomplished.

And at the heart of it was a truth that coach Steve Clifford told a skeptical media throughout the entire season.

Nikola Vucevic was always the player teams worried about most when facing the Magic. It was finally Clifford that unleashed him on the unsuspecting league in a way no other coach had truly trusted him.

Nikola Vucevic was deservedly an All-Star last year, averaging 20.8 points per game and 12.0 rebounds per game, both career highs. He was one of the best passing big men in the league at 3.8 assists per game — trailing only Nikola Jokic, Marc Gasol and Anthony Davis in assists among centers.

There was that nasty tasted left in everyone’s mouth. His playoff performance was less than ideal as the Toronto Raptors put their whole defensive focus on making him uncomfortable, choking off his usual post-up opportunities as Gasol stepped up his game and leaving him with few outlets to pass to.

The Magic’s flaws were on full display in that playoff series. That includes many of the flaws Vucevic had displayed throughout his tenure with the Magic.

The debate about whether to bring Vucevic back in free agency was as much about putting the previous six seasons on trial. Vucevic was a solid contributor throughout that time, but struggled to anchor defensively.

That appeared to be as much about the lack of direction from the coaching staff. Clifford seemed to unlock the most out of Vucevic.

Still, the struggles of the previous six seasons were as present as the success of the seventh season. And investing in Vucevic long term comes with its own risks.

Orlando opted to keep Vucevic on a four-year, $100-million contract. The team was able to frontload the deal, starting with a salary of $28 million this year and ending at $22 million in 2023.

But the deal obviously comes with its own set of risks. Most notably the fact Vucevic is with the team for the long term now — warts and all.

Ultimately, the Magic made the right decision bringing Vucevic back. They were not getting back to the playoffs without Vucevic and what he can bring offensively. That is their ultimate goal for now.

Published at Mon, 15 Jul 2019 17:04:15 +0000

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