To the surprise of few, the Orlando Magic are once again not a very competitive basketball team. Since Dwight Howard’s departure in 2012, the Magic have failed to achieve higher than 7th in the Eastern Conference and have only won two playoff games in 10 attempts.
However, the Magic finally have an exciting group of young players to begin building around. Cole Anthony has shown a lot of promise in his rookie campaign and, while he’s currently recovering from a torn ACL, Jonathan Isaac has shown himself to be one of the most exciting up-and-comers in the NBA. When paired with those aforementioned struggles, All-Star Nikola Vucevic has become the odd man out on a non-competitive team in the middle of a rebuild.
With Vucevic only getting older, the questions about the Magic’s long-term plans with their center have only become more pronounced. Should they trade him? Or would Orlando be better off keeping Vucevic around?
Vucevic is in his 10th season in the NBA after being drafted 16th overall in 2011 out of USC. Since making his way to Orlando after his rookie season with the Philadelphia 76ers, he’s been a fixture for the Magic and, arguably, their best player since Howard’s departure.
In nine years with the Magic, Vucevic has averaged 17.4 points and 10.8 rebounds per game, with an All-Star Game appearance during the 2018-19 season. This season, he’s seen the best scoring season of his career, averaging 23.3 points per game.
Despite his individual successes on the court, however, Vucevic’s play hasn’t translated to nearly as much team success — of course, that isn’t entirely on Vucevic, but rather the fault of the organization and the path they’ve taken over the last decade or so, failing to build a truly competitive roster around their star center. Orlando has made the postseason in just two of Vucevic’s eight seasons with the team, while they have yet to advance beyond the first round. The highest seed the Magic have achieved with Vucevic on the roster was in 2018-19, when they secured the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference.
Now, the Magic have started a youth movement. The 30-year-old Vucevic would seemingly stand in the way of that; given that they aren’t expected to be competitive for at least a few more seasons, it may be best for the team to truly commit to a rebuild, move Vucevic to the highest bidder before his play starts to decline and stockpile as many potential assets as they can. His absence would also provide significant opportunities for Mo Bamba and Chuma Okeke, giving the Magic a chance to truly evaluate them and see where they fit into the future.
Of course, trading Vucevic, in just the second year of a $100 million contract, might be easier said than done. The 31-year-old is about to leave his prime, while many teams may see the downgrade Vucevic might be defensively and stay away.
But that isn’t to say Vucevic is without potential suitors.
The Golden State Warriors are one of but a few teams that could use a boost at the center position. Rookie James Wiseman has flashed, but has struggled to play consistently and could prove a liability come playoff time. Draymond Green, meanwhile, is an excellent defender but is averaging just 5.1 points per game on a dismal 35.3 field goal percentage. Vucevic would instantly step in as the second option to Stephen Curry, easing both his burden and that of Andrew Wiggins and Kelly Oubre on offense.
The problem with a potential Warriors deal is that they don’t have much in the way of assets to send back. Outside of Wiseman, they lack for young, coveted prospects already at the NBA level. And, while they own the Minnesota Timberwolves’ first selection in the 2021 NBA Draft, it’s likely to be protected; if it does convey, would the Warriors value Vucevic over a potential top-five pick?
Another potential fit for Vucevic would be the Boston Celtics, a team that has been linked to him in rumors now for multiple seasons.
Boston has struggled mightily on offense as of late and, as they tend to split the majority of their minutes at center between Daniel Theis, Tristan Thompson and Robert Williams, Vucevic would prove an easy and immediate upgrade; Theis is the leading scorer of the trio, averaging a paltry 9..5 points per game. Further, it would be easy, at least for the Celtics, to take the center on given the trade exception they generated via the Gordon Hayward sign-and-trade with the Charlotte Hornets.
It’s clear that Boston’s two stars, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, need help. And, with Walker clearly not completely recovered from a knee injury sustained last season, Vucevic might be just what they’re looking for. They also have a number of intriguing assets they could send back to Orlando, including Williams, Romeo Langford, Grant Williams and a number of draft picks.
The last team featured here is a team that needs depth at the center position: the Brooklyn Nets.
The Nets have plenty of talent and are certainly not lacking for offensive firepower. But, with Jarrett Allen gone to the Cleveland Cavaliers as part of the James Harden trade, Brooklyn has struggled to get any production out of the five-spot. Of course, DeAndre Jordan has his moments, but the 32-year-old just isn’t the same player that he was with the Los Angeles Clippers anymore.
It might be overkill, given the firepower they already possess on offense, but if it’s championship-or-bust in Brooklyn, a move for Vucevic would all but solidify their status as the favorite to take home the Larry O’Brien trophy.
The good news for Orlando is that they have time; under contract for two more seasons, Vucevic could be traded after the season or even next season should the Magic feel any return inadequate or simply hope to make one last postseason push with the big man.
Either way, moving Vucevic would seem inevitable — and it might just be the biggest step the Magic have taken to get their franchise back on track in nearly a decade.
Rockets decline Avery Bradley’s $5.9 million team option
First reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic, the Houston Rockets are declining Avery Bradley’s team option for the 2021-22 NBA season. On November 23, 2020, the 30-year-old guard signed as a free agent with the Miami Heat. He signed a two-year, $11.6 million deal. On March 25, 2021, the Heat traded Bradley, Kelly Olynyk, and a 2022 first-round pick to the Houston Rockets for two-time NBA All-Star guard Victor Oladipo. The 2022 first-round pick is an option to trade for a potential Heat or Nets pick. Plus, Houston received a trade exception, too.
Moreover, Bradley earned $5,635,000 this previous season; the Rockets declined his 2021-22 team option of $5,916,750 for next season. In other words, both sides have mutually agreed to part ways, so the six-foot-three guard is now an unrestricted free agent. In early February, it was first reported that the Washington native would miss three to four weeks due to a calf strain. Before this injury, he averaged 8.5 points, 1.8 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game for Miami. Furthermore, he also shot a career-high percentage of 42.1 percent from behind the arc last season.
The Rockets are not picking up guard Avery Bradley’s $5.9 million team option for next season, making him an unrestricted free agent, sources tell @TheAthletic @Stadium. Sides mutually agreed to part ways.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) July 31, 2021
Though, Bradley disappointed both of his teams last season, leading to the Rockets finishing 17-55 (.236), ranking 15th overall in the Western Conference. Last season was the first time since the 1982-83 season that Houston failed to win at least 20 games. Since the 2011-12 season, it was the first time the Rockets had failed to qualify for the playoffs. In only 27 games played, the 11-year NBA veteran averaged 6.4 points, 2.1 rebounds, and 1.7 assists per game. He shot 37.4 percent from the field as well.
Likewise, the Miami Heat finished 40-32 (.556) last season, regressing from the team’s 44-29 (.603) record and sixth NBA Finals appearance from the 2019-20 season. Fans across social media are already speculating that the 2010 19th overall pick will end up playing for the Los Angeles Lakers next season. If this happens, he would join the team’s newly established big three: LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook.
After Bradley signed with the Lakers for the 2019-20 season, he joined the list of players in the league’s history who played for both the Celtics and Lakers. The list includes Brian Shaw, Clyde Lovellette, Mel Counts, Rick Fox, Don Nelson, Bob McAdoo, Isaiah Thomas, Charlie Scott, Gary Payton, Shaquille O’Neal, and Rajon Rondo. According to Bleacher Report, the Lakers are also interested in signing Carmelo Anthony this offseason.
Mavericks are expected to pick up Willie Cauley-Stein’s $4.1 million option
Per ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, the Dallas Mavericks are planning to pick up center Willie Cauley-Stein’s $4.1 million option for the 2021-22 NBA season. The deadline is tomorrow. Last season, in 53 games played, the seven-foot big man averaged 5.3 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. The sixth-year player also shot 63.2 percent from the field last season.
On July 8, 2019, Cauley-Stein signed a two-year, $4.46 million contract with the Golden State Warriors. Then, on January 25, 2020, Cauley-Stein was traded to the Mavericks for a 2020 second-round pick. If everything goes smoothly, the 27-year-old center is set to earn $4.1 million next season. The 2015 sixth overall pick’s contract consumes less than three percent of the team’s total salary cap.
Source says Mavs are leaning toward picking up center Willie Cauley-Stein's $4.1 million option for next season. Deadline is Sunday and Mavs are waiting to see if situation unexpectedly materializes to make that cap space worth parting with a big man they like.
— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) July 31, 2021
This news comes right after Dallas received center Moses Brown from the Boston Celtics. Brown is a seven-foot-two, 2019 undrafted player out of UCLA. In 2021, Brown was named to the All-NBA G League First Team and All-Defensive Team. On March 28, 2021, the 21-year-old center signed a four-year, $6.8 million contract with the Thunder.
However, on June 18, 2021, the Oklahoma City Thunder traded Brown, Al Horford, and a 2023 second-round pick to the Celtics for Kemba Walker, a 2021 first-round pick, and a 2025 second-round pick. With Boston, Brown was set to earn $1,701,593 next season. Of course, the Mavs’ organization is finalizing a trade to send Josh Richardson to the Celtics as well. In other news, today is Mavs’ owner Mark Cuban’s 63rd birthday.
Referencing Spotrac’s 2021-22 luxury tax totals, the Mavs’ current luxury tax space is $52,326,531. The 2021 NBA salary cap maximum is $112,414,000. Their current cap space is $27,595,632. Cauley-Stein’s contract is recognized as a club option, not a player option or guaranteed money. Richardson’s deadline is also tomorrow, so because he is getting traded to Boston, the team will not collect his $11,615,328 player option.
Plus, Jalen Brunson’s deadline is also August 1st. His guaranteed value is $1,802,057. Leading into the 2021-22 season, Kristaps Porzingis has the highest cap figure on the team, which is an amount worth $31,650,600, consuming 22.73 percent of the team’s total salary cap. At the moment, Porzingis is a popular name in trade rumor articles. Bettors and NBA analysts are predicting a possible trade to the Brooklyn Nets, Sacramento Kings, or Philadelphia 76ers.
Lakers Need More Than Big Three
The Lakers have their “big three” after trading for Russell Westbrook but is he the right fit in Los Angeles? The former MVP has had an incredible career but he may not be the point guard the Lakers desperately need.
The Los Angeles Lakers have formed their three-headed monster as they pursue the franchise’s 18th championship next season. Just as the NBA Draft was getting started, the Lakers completed a deal with the Washington Wizards that landed them the 2016-17 league MVP, Russell Westbrook.
The deal sent Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell and the 21st overall pick in this year’s draft to Washington, paving the way for Westbrook to join fellow superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis. While the Lakers added a dynamic point guard, not everyone is sold on the idea that the Lakers are the team to beat in the loaded Western Conference.
Over the past several weeks, the Lakers were rumored to be seeking perimeter shooting. Some reports had Los Angeles linked to guys like Chris Paul, Buddy Hield and DeMar DeRozan. When the dust settled, it was Washington that made the deal as Westbrook informed the front office that he preferred the Lakers as a destination.
The move is a homecoming of sorts, as Westbrook grew up in the area and spent two seasons playing at UCLA, leading the Bruins to the 2008 Final Four. He had a solid 2020-21 season, averaging 22.2 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 11.7 assists per game for the Wizards, who earned the No. 8 seed in the playoffs.
Oddly enough, this is the third straight offseason in which the 9-time All-Star has been traded. After leaving Oklahoma City, Westbrook was not able to find postseason success in Houston or Washington. Will that now change in Los Angeles?
For all of his accomplishments, Westbrook’s legacy has been defined by his play during the regular season. This past season, the point guard passed Oscar Robertson for the most triple-doubles in the history of the game. Out of his 184 triple-doubles, only 12 have come in the playoffs. By comparison, Magic Johnson has the most playoff career triple-doubles with 30, and James is next with 28. Now all three will have played for the Lakers during their careers.
The thing about triple-doubles (and this is especially the case with Westbrook) is that they don’t always translate to wins. They clearly help the team overall but some would argue that a more balanced attack is tougher to stop. History has shown that having a “big three” is almost a requirement to be considered a legitimate championship contender, but this trio in Los Angeles doesn’t exactly fit together like many of those others.
As talented and valuable as Westbrook has been over the course of his career, he needs to have the ball to be effective. His poor perimeter shooting has been the big hiccup in his game, and that is something that this Lakers team desperately needs. The problem isn’t that any of these three won’t share the ball. In fact, they had already discussed checking their egos even before this trade went down.
LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, and Anthony Davis got together at LeBron’s house two weeks ago and agreed to set aside their egos and focus on winning a championship in LA. Per @BA_Turner pic.twitter.com/CDhidtvHxv
— NBA Retweet (@RTNBA) July 30, 2021
Westbrook has never had a problem sharing the ball. He was able to co-exist with Durant in Oklahoma City, Harden in Houston and Beal in Washington. The difference in this scenario is that he will be occupying the same space as James and Davis. The concern is efficiency. Out of 34 players to average at least 20 points per game over the last four seasons, Westbrook ranked 33rd in true shooting percentage.
When James drives to the rim or when Davis is facing a double-team inside, how confident will they be in passing out to Westbrook for a three-pointer? Better yet, how patient will they be if the shot isn’t falling? We have already seen what happened with Danny Green and Caldwell-Pope.
Now that the Lakers have assembled their trio of stars, many fans are hopeful to witness an NBA Finals matchup where James and the Lakers meet Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets. As juicy as that series would be, the Western Conference is a gauntlet. There is no guarantee that the Lakers will make it there.
What helps their path is that the crosstown rival Clippers will likely be without Kawhi Leonard next season. The Denver Nuggets will be without Jamal Murray and the Golden State Warriors might not be the Warriors from four years ago. There is also uncertainty surrounding Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers and some potential roster changeup with the Utah Jazz.
— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) July 30, 2021
Considering all of the top-tier point guard talent available in free agency this summer, the Lakers may have been better off trying to do a sign-and-trade. Such a scenario would have hard-capped them but after this deal, they are just $12.6 million below the hard cap with just five players on the roster. Putting together a deal for Hield is still possible, but the Lakers will have to get creative. Adding a third team to this trade, in particular, is one way to accomplish that. Again, it is possible but it will be complicated.
In a perfect world, the Lakers could have worked with Toronto on a sign-and-trade for Kyle Lowry. Even though Lowry is older than Westbrook, the current window for Los Angeles to win with this group is closing fast. Lowry would be cheaper and a much better fit overall. His durability, toughness, defense and high basketball IQ would pay dividends for the Lakers. Adding in the fact that he is a much better shooter, one has to wonder why the Lakers wouldn’t pursue this route instead.
Westbrook is still going to help this team. He is a tremendous asset for them in the regular season, especially when James is on the bench or unable to play. Having another floor general on the court to generate offense is something they have not had since James arrived. If Los Angeles can land some above-average shooting to the roster, Westbrook could flourish in this role.
With James sliding to the power forward position and Davis playing more at center, the key for Los Angeles will be to surround these guys with shooters. The Lakers ranked 21st in three-point percentage and 25th in makes last season. Expect the organization to be busy when free agency starts next week. Targets will include guys like Duncan Robinson, JJ Redick, Norman Powell, Evan Fournier, Doug McDermott, Bryn Forbes, Patrick Mills, Reggie Bullock, Kendrick Nunn and Alec Burks.
Obviously, the Lakers are counting on their individual talent and figuring out the rest later. It likely means the end for Dennis Schröder. Can Alex Caruso fit in and where does this leave Talen Horton-Tucker? The rest of the roster is in limbo, but the star players and the front office both feel confident that they will land the other pieces that they need to raise another banner next summer.
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