Nikola Vucevic, amid trade and demotion rumors, off to hot start for Magic

vucevic
Manuela Davies/Getty Images
3 Comments

The Magic traded for Serge Ibaka – then called Nikola Vucevic.

The Magic signed Jeff Green – then called Vucevic.

The Magic signed Bismack Biyombo – then called Vucevic.

After each move to add to a big-man rotation that already included Vucevic and Aaron Gordon, someone from Orlando – usually general manager Rob Hennigan – explained the rationale to Vucevic. The Magic wanted to add depth, get better defensively, become more energetic and positive and find a veteran leader. And Vucevic says he endorsed all that.

“I never felt like my position was in danger,” Vucevic said.

So many others thought it was.

Numerous analysts pegged Vucevic as the odd man out, likely to be demoted from the starting lineup if not traded. Then, a funny thing happened: Vucevic has held his job as starting center and been the Magic’s best player so far this season.

He leads Orlando’s frontcourt players in points (14.8), rebounds (12.8) and assists (3.0) per game. The Magic are way better with him on the court than off – scoring 7.4 more and allowing 19.5 fewer points per 100 possessions.

The sentiment behind expecting a Vucevic trade is understandable. After all, his four years in Orlando produced four losing seasons. If he had played better, the Magic wouldn’t need such a drastic overhaul. Vucevic, a skilled offensive player with defensive deficiencies, didn’t seem to fit the new vision.

Orlando added three players with higher salaries than Vucevic who will affect his playing time. Vucevic and Biyombo are centers. Ibaka is a power forward-center. Gordon and Green are power forward-small forwards. With the exception of Green, they all defend better than Vucevic – which would seem to hold particular sway under new coach Frank Vogel.

Yet, not only is Vucevic excelling, his frontcourt teammates aren’t. Ibaka has looked lethargic on defense more often than not. Biyombo still hasn’t settled in after being suspended for the season opener. Green has been (predictably) shaky. The promising Gordon looks displaced at small forward.

As a result, early returns on the Magic’s plan are negative. They’re 1-3 and seem likely to continue their streak of aiming for the playoffs and falling short. On one hand, dealing Vucevic for a perimeter player could stabilize the rotation. But how can you trade the only big man who looks comfortable?

Vucevic said he didn’t need the offseason phone calls, but he appreciated the reassurances. That has translated to a confident player – one who publicly stated that he should start over Biyombo and has backed it up on the court.

“I knew what my value is. I knew what I can bring to this team,” Vucevic said. “And so, I wasn’t afraid that my role or something was going to get hurt by that.”

Before this offseason, Orlando had given Vucevic every reason to believe his place is secure.

The Magic have had five players eligible for a rookie-scale contract extension under Hennigan. They traded one (Maurice Harkless), let another become an unrestricted free agent and leave (Andrew Nicholson) and made two restricted free agents and re-signed them (Evan Fournier and Tobias Harris). Vucevic is the only one to receive an extension.

That four-year, $53 million pact looked lofty at the time, but the new national TV deals have made it a bargain – part of the reason Vucevic appears to tradable. He’s making just $11.75 million this season and $25 million over the next two.

The market for centers has cooled, but at that price, many teams would love to have a big man who possesses crafty moves in the paint and a steady mid-range jumper, skillfully drops dimes and gobbles up rebounds.

Vucevic steals some rebounds from teammates, but Orlando rebounds much better with him on the floor. His on-off numbers are boosted by playing with other starters, though there’s a reason he’s untrusted with those minutes. He’s due for some regression to the mean, especially defensively, but he has already pleasantly surprised his new coach on that end.

“His natural talents are on the offensive end. There’s no doubt about that,” Vogel said. “But all you can ask of all your players is to give maximum effort, and he’s doing that right now.”

Said Vucevic: “I’m not an explosive, high-jumping guy that’s just going to go and get the ball on top of the backboard. It’s more about just being in the right position at the right time.”

The trade speculation probably won’t go away. If the Magic remain dismal, they could seek a shakeup. If they improve, they could lean more on the sparkling new additions and younger players and deal Vucevic.

But in a way few expected before the season, Vucevic might actually just be in the right position at the right time.

Now, Vucevic must keep it up, and the rest of the Magic must catch up if this isn’t going to be another lost season in Orlando.

Wembanyama encore: 36 points, 11 rebounds, 4 blocks against Ignite

0 Comments

Victor Wembanyama is for real.

And I don’t mean real tall, although he is that, too. Check out this image of him next to Rudy Gobert, who is a legit 7’1″.

Wembanyama is for real like a genuine generational talent — in his second game against the G-League Ignite he had 36 points, 11 rebounds, and four blocked shots.

That comes off his 37-point performance in the first meeting where he hit 7-of-11 3-pointers and had five blocks.

To be clear: That is 73 points, 15 rebounds, nine blocks, shooting 9-of-18 from 3 (and 22-of-44 overall) across two games against a good talent level. And he is 18 years old.

Everyone in and around the NBA has been trying to come up with player comps — Kristaps Porzingis, Ralph Sampson, Tim Duncan — but the reality is Wembanyama is one of one.

Scoot Henderson — the G-League guard projected as the No. 2 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft — played just five minutes in this game after bumping his knee while guarding Wembanyama. He was taken out of the game and X-rays found a bone bruise, he did not return. He is officially day-to-day the team announced.

Wembanyama and his Metropolitans 92 got the win in this rematch, 112-106.

Draymond Green not expected to miss any games, Warriors to handle discipline ‘internally’

2022 NBA Summer League - Golden State Warriors v New York Knicks
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
0 Comments

Draymond Green is not expected to miss any games for punching teammate Jordan Poole during an altercation during practice, Warriors GM Bob Myers said Thursday.

That’s not to say he is escaping any punishment, it will just be handled internally, Myers said.

Green showed up at Chase Center and apologized to the team and then left, he did not practice with the Warriors, reports Monte Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area.

“Draymond apologized to the team this morning, Jordan was there in the room, I was there in room with the team, the coaches, the players and we heard that,” Myers said.

Whatever punishment the Warriors are handing down to Green, it will not include missing games, Myers said.

Coach Steve Kerr added, “I expect [Green] to return on Saturday and get back at it.” That implies a couple of days suspension, likely with a hefty fine.

Kerr was also quick to shoot down the rumors of Poole having an “attitude” around camp as he comes up on a massive contract extension. Stephen Curry echoed that, saying those reports are “absolute BS.”

The Warriors have seen their fair share of Draymond Green incidents over the years, and as a locker room and franchise they know how to move on from it. While this made headlines, the Warriors will shrug it off and move on.

Miami, Milwaukee have their eyes on Jae Crowder

NBA 2022 Playoffs - Phoenix Suns v Dallas Mavericks
Getty Photo
0 Comments

The Heat and Bucks don’t just have interest in the same player. They’re looking to replace the same player.

Two years ago, P.J. Tucker helped Milwaukee win their first championship in a half-century. Last season, he helped Miami lock up the top seed in the East and make the Conference Finals.

With Tucker in Philadelphia, both the Heat and Bucks are looking to fill the void with a different lockdown enforcer that can stretch the floor.

Jae Crowder and the Suns agreed that he won’t participate in practice as the team looks to accommodate his trade request. In a recent ESPN+ article, Zach Lowe made it clear that both Miami and Milwaukee are interested in pursuing a trade for Crowder.

“The Bucks have internal interest in Crowder as that Tucker replacement after getting into the recent Jerami Grant and Bojan Bogdanovic discussions, sources say. They will search all season for one more piece.

“The Heat have interest in Crowder too, sources say, but finding matching salary is tough until Dewayne Dedmon, Caleb Martin and Victor Oladipo become trade-eligible in the winter. Martin might start, and the Heat are optimistic Oladipo can play a huge role.”

Grant and Bogdanovic were traded to Portland and Detroit, respectively. The Heat may struggle to find a trade that works since Phoenix probably won’t want to take on Duncan Robinson’s contract. Dedmon, Martin and Oladipo will become trade eligible on January 15th.

Crowder has a history with the Heat, as he helped them make the NBA Finals in the bubble. He helped Phoenix make the NBA Finals two seasons ago and then helped them finish with the best record in the NBA last season.

LeBron says Wembanyama is an ‘alien’ and a ‘generational talent’

0 Comments

There was a time when LeBron James was the “it” kid coming for the NBA — a freakish athlete like nobody in the league had seen. A player the size of Karl Malone with the quickness and skills of an elite point guard.

Now the “it” guy is Victor Wembanyama, the 7’4″ mold-breaking big out of France — and LeBron is impressed.

“Everybody’s been a unicorn over the last few years, well he’s more like an alien,” LeBron said after the Lakers’ preseason loss to the Suns in Las Vegas. “I’ve never seen, no one’s ever seen anyone as tall as he is, but it’s fluid and as graceful as on the floor…

“His ability to put the ball on the floor, shoot step-back jumpers on the post, step-back 3s, catch-and-shoot 3s, block shots. He’s for sure a generational talent. And hopefully he continues to stay healthy, that’s the most important for him personally, and as you could tell he loves the game. He was smiling a lot while playing the game last night. I think it was the two best players in the draft on the floor last night and they both did their thing.”

Wembanyama is projected to be the No.1 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, just ahead of point guard Scoot Henerson, who scored 28 points with nine assists of his own leading his G-League Ignite to a win over Wembanyama’s Metropolitans 92. Wembanyama scored 37 points in the game, hit 7-of-11 shots from 3, had five blocks and a few other shots changed because of his length (7’11” wingspan) and the threat of his block.

Wembanyama and Henderson face off again tonight in a second game between the Ignite and Metropolitans 92 just outside Las Vegas in Henderson (9:30 p.m. ET on NBATV).

Wembanyama will play, with his agent telling ESPN there are no plans to shut the No.1 pick down to avoid injury and protect his draft status. “He’ll never agree to that. He wants to compete and get better,” Bouna Ndiaye said.

LeBron looked back on his time as the “it” player and said simply, “thank got there wasn’t social media” at the time. It’s a different world now, but game still recognizes game.

And LeBron recognizes it in Wembanyama.