The NBA trade deadline saw action from teams all around the league, but no team was busier than the Orlando Magic.
Orlando finally committed to a rebuild the organization had been putting off for years, trading Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon all in one day. So we’re going to take a look at these three trades and see how well the Magic made out.
Nikola Vucevic to the Bulls
The biggest of the three trades was the Magic sending their All-Star center Vucevic to the Chicago Bulls. In return, the Magic landed Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr. and two first round draft picks in 2021 and 2023.
For a two-time All-Star, this seems like a relatively light return, but the Magic should be pleased with the business they did here. Porter is a veteran wing who may not finish the season on the Magic and Carter has had a season to forget in 2020-21. The two draft picks acquired by Orlando will be the pieces to take away. Both picks are only protected if the Bulls are drafting in the top four picks, which they look unlikely to do this season with a 19-28 record. Unless Chicago can turn its season around quickly – or completely collapse – the Magic will likely end up with two lottery picks in the 2021 draft, which is a perfect way to start their first full season of the rebuild.
While Carter has had a bad season, a change of scenery could be what the former seventh overall pick needs. Carter is just 21-years-old and has struggled mightily with injuries since entering the league in 2018, having yet to play more than 44 games in a season. But, despite the red flags, Carter has a lot of upside that made him worth trading for. Carter is 6-foot-10 and 270 pounds with a freakishly long wingspan of 7-foot-5, giving him all the traits of a high-end defensive impact player. Offensively, Carter has been inconsistent over his three NBA seasons, but he’s shown flashes of touch around the rim and has even shown the ability to stretch his game out to the three-point line, hitting 36 percent of his .7 attempts per game this year. It’s encouraging that in Carter’s two games with Orlando so far, he’s had 11 and 21 points, respectively, on good efficiency. He still has a ways to go, but Carter’s mix of size, length and finesse make him an excellent pick up for Orlando alongside the two first-round picks.
While it isn’t a Jrue Holiday level package, two lightly protected first-rounders and a high-upside prospect is an excellent return for a center who is now past 30-years-old.
Aaron Gordon to the Nuggets
While not having the All-Star pedigree that Vucevic has put together for himself, Gordon has improved into one of the best all-around role players in the NBA during his time with the Magic. Orlando traded him to the Denver Nuggets in exchange for Gary Harris, R.J. Hampton and a 2025 first-round draft pick.
The return for Gordon is a mixed bag compared to an impressive haul for Vucevic. Harris is a good defensive guard, but injuries have made him a shell of the player he was a few years ago. Acquiring first-round draft picks is always good for a team rebuilding, the pick conveys at the earliest in 2025 and potentially later if the Nuggets 2023 lottery-protected first-rounder they traded to the Thunder doesn’t convey that season. That leaves Hampton as the most interesting piece of the trade and he is far from a sure thing. Hampton showed some flashes in his 25 games with the Nuggets, but it’s clear the 20-year-old point guard has a long way to go before he is a true difference-maker. Hampton doesn’t shoot the ball well, shooting 43 percent from the field and 27.3 percent from three, he also has an assist to turnover ratio of 1.2 and an assist percentage of 9.1 percent, both low numbers for a point guard. Hampton does have a lot of positive qualities that made him worth trading for. He’s a great athlete and has shown a lot of upside defensively in his brief stint thus far, plus his 76.5 free throw percentage is an encouraging mark that his shooting numbers could improve over time.
It will be a while before we know just how well the Magic did in this trade, but it’s hard not to be a bit disappointed, especially knowing how many teams around the league had rumored interest in Gordon. Hampton has a lot of upside and could be a great player, but he could just as easily be out of the league by the end of his rookie contract and the 2025 first-rounder is coming from one of the best and youngest teams in the league.
Evan Fournier to the Celtics
Fournier has quietly been one of the best high-volume scorers in the NBA for his seven seasons in Orlando and the Magic finally cashed in. However, the Magic may have waited too long to pull the trigger, as they were only able to net two second-round draft picks from the Boston Celtics in return for a guard who was averaging 16.2 points per game over his last seven seasons.
Fournier is on the final year of his five-year, $85 million contract and, being an expiring player, the Magic were never going to be able to get a return equal in value to the player Fournier is. Despite back-to-back playoff appearances the past two seasons, the Magic were never seriously competitive with this roster and the delusions of competitiveness over those seasons may have held Orlando back from a better package for Fournier.
The Magic probably got the best possible package they could get for Fournier, as no team was going to give up first-rounders or talented prospects for a volume bench scorer in the final year of his contract, but the Magic received a C- for not capitalizing on his value sooner. Fournier got an $85 million check for a reason and the Magic likely could have turned him into a better package the past couple of seasons. Even if they couldn’t, two second-round picks for a player who is averaging 18.6 points per game this year is a lackluster return.
Overall grade: B
The Vucevic trade alone is a huge step for the Magic, but overall Orlando made out very well this deadline. They ended Thursday with three first-round picks, two second-round picks, two prospects and two veteran wings. This crop of trades is a great stepping stone in rebuilding and gives Orlando a lot of assets to try and use productively over the next few seasons. While the Magic certainly didn’t have a perfect deadline, it’s hard to see these three trades as anything but a win for the organization, even if some of the players and picks they received are a bit lower in value than the player they sent out.
The Magic needed to begin this rebuild years ago and while the return of some players may have hurt from their unwillingness to accept that fate, they’re finally on the right track. The Magic have many exciting young talents such as Johnathan Isaac, Cole Anthony, Chuma Okeke, Mo Bamba and Markelle Fultz to go along with their newly acquired youngsters and draft picks.
It may take some time for Orlando to find the next pieces that will take them back to the top of the Eastern Conference, they have finally put themselves on the right track.
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