The Magic overloaded their frontcourt this season, adding Serge Ibaka, Bismack Biyombo and Jeff Green to a big-man rotation that already included Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon. Nobody knew how Orlando would handle it.
But Vucevic had one request: Himself starting.
The Magic tried for 16 games. But after a 6-10 start, they overhauled their starting lineup:
- D.J. Augustin for Elfrid Payton at point guard
- Evan Fournier remaining at shooting guard
- Gordon for Green at small forward (reversing the lone prior change to the starting lineup)
- Ibaka remaining at power forward
- Biyombo for Vucevic at center
The new lineup debuted yesterday against the Bucks, who handed Orlando its fourth straight loss.
“I spoke to Frank [Vogel] about it last night, and obviously I wasn’t happy with the decision they made,” said Vucevic. “I didn’t think that there was a reason for me to go to the bench, but it’s coaches decision. All I can do is control what I can control, which is when I’m on the court, play to the best of my ability and help the team win. Stay professional and whatever is going on, I’ll keep giving my best and give them my full effort.”
I don’t blame Vucevic for feeling aggrieved. Vucevic started strong, struggled and then started to pick up his play again – just to get benched. He never asked for this logjam, and it’s making it hard for him to produce. As long as he maintains his focus and works hard, that’s all you can ask.
Magic coach Frank Vogel has little choice but to keep tinkering until he finds a combination that works, and that won’t be a comfortable process given the ill-fitting pieces on the roster. Orlando is 6-11 and has the NBA’s worst offense due to their lack of ball-skilled offensive players and spacing.
Vogel ought to be careful about demoting Payton, though. Benching the front-office favorite contributed to the last coach’s departure. That Payton isn’t getting the job done might matter only so much.
Like Vucevic, Vogel didn’t request this roster. They were just handed it and forced to deal with it.