Spurs: Great, acceptable, and awful trades for Nikola Vucevic
By Josh Paredes
On Monday, The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor revealed the San Antonio Spurs are one of four teams interested in the Orlando Magic’s All-Star center Nikola Vucevic. While they rarely mix things up mid-season, even the Spurs aren’t immune to being involved in speculation, but will that translate to actual movement from the Silver and Black?
The consensus among the Spurs community, myself included, is probably not. In The Ringer article, O’Connor admits the Magic probably would require a haul from any team looking to take Vucevic, which would likely mean some combination of draft picks, a borderline All-Star, and young talent.
San Antonio certainly has all three to offer Orlando if they were so inclined, but what would be an acceptable offer for Orlando’s star? Would he be worth giving up a young, promising guy and draft capital? His numbers suggest he’s worth a look.
As a 6-11 center, Vucevic is shooting a career-best 41.2 percent from beyond the arc on 6.5 attempts per game. That percentage is better than anyone on the Spurs, and he’s doing so while shooting more threes per game than anyone but Patty Mills.
Say what you will about Nikola’s porous defense, but he’d offer much more on both ends of the floor than LaMarcus Aldridge is now able to at age 35. Is it possible for San Antonio to snag him from Orlando without sacrificing too much of their future? I turned to you on Twitter for your ideas.
Next: The Awful Trade
One trade that wouldn’t work for either the San Antonio Spurs or Magic
For all but the last trade I’ll be discussing, I scoured our mentions on Twitter and elsewhere to look for ideas everyday people had to acquire Vucevic. As expected, some were better than others. In particular, this one is logistically possible but somehow wouldn’t be appealing enough to either side.
In short, the Spurs’ goal in a deal is not to lose too much of their young core and future capital. In this situation, they’d be losing a developing potential star while also losing a chance to draft in a loaded class. This deal isn’t terrible for the Spurs if they’re expecting Devin Vassell to be what Keldon is quickly becoming, but Johnson is already proving himself to be irreplaceable.
In this situation, I feel like the Spurs might be best served testing the free agency waters or using the draft to work on their next project while Luka Samanic gets a promotion.
The Magic, on the other hand, probably wouldn’t see Keldon and a pick as enough of an investment in their future. Johnson would undoubtedly be able to bolster their sputtering offense and become a key role player capable of helping Orlando get back to the playoffs.
Still, from what it sounds like, Orlando will likely want even more picks, a star, or multiple young players of equal value instead of this offer.
The Spurs would be more likely to take this deal than the Magic, but Johnson’s potential might make the price too high.
Next: Trades one side might like better
One trade that would be acceptable for the San Antonio Spurs, not Orlando
Jumping off the fact the Magic likely would require two-first rounders in a deal for Nikola Vucevic, I could see the Spurs being okay with parting with such a thing. They’ve had tremendous drafts over the past few seasons to form a core of guys in their 20s, all with promising futures.
They should be set for the time being with limited future picks if it means bringing a multiple-time All-Star on board.
In this scenario, the Magic would get offensive help from LaMarcus Aldridge and a solid point guard to help fill the void left by Markelle Fultz’s injury. Even with the two first-rounders to sweeten the pot, however, I don’t think they’d feel inclined to part with their star for this.
The way I see it, the only way the Magic might entertain an offer by San Antonio that doesn’t include multiple picks is if it’s for someone like Dejounte Murray or Derrick White. I can’t see the Spurs offering either guy in a deal.
One trade that would be acceptable for Orlando, probably not the Spurs
One proposed trade I came upon gives Orlando what they want, which is a multitude of picks. It also doesn’t sacrifice any of the Spurs’ “untradeable core” in the process. So what’s wrong with this trade if you’re the Spurs?
Even for a proven All-Star, giving up three future unprotected picks is a little steep. Yes, the Spurs are set in the youth department, but they still would like to build on that in the next five years, when Vucevic would be approaching 35-years-old.
The Spurs wouldn’t be giving up too much in Lyles, Jones, and Aldridge, but handicapping their short-term drafting future isn’t the way to go for a team that’s excellent in that field.
Is there a deal that would work out for both teams? It took me some time, but I personally came up with one that might do the trick.
Next: One trade that helps both sides
One trade that could work for both San Antonio Spurs and Orlando Magic
I’ll preface this with one thing: I’m not sure the Magic are going to get the borderline star they might be seeking for Vucevic. If they manage to pull in a Jaylen Brown-type, I’d expect them to make a deal like that over anything they could get with San Antonio. That said, if they opt to go for a trove of future picks, the Spurs could be able to oblige.
It’s not perfect, but it gives both sides something for their future.
In this scenario, the Magic would be getting the young piece I’ve been talking about while also getting rid of the $10.1 million contract they owe Al-Farouq Aminu. They’d also be taking on two expiring contracts in the process. Rudy Gay and Lonnie Walker could certainly help their offense that’s 28th in the league in points per game.
Orlando would have much more flexibility and salary cap space with Vucevic and Aminu off the books, and they’d have an additional first-round pick to help invest in their immediate future. The pick swap would be a free perk from the Spurs in case Orlando needed that extra bit of motivation to improve quickly in an increasingly weakening Eastern Conference.
San Antonio, meanwhile, would be getting a stud center that can spread the floor and is under a reasonable contract. Vucevic would instantly contend nightly with DeRozan for the leading scorer role and help create space for the multitude of slashing guards on the team.
At 30 years old, it’s too early to write off Nikola as a zero-defense player who would have the same defensive impact as Aldridge. He’s still much more mobile and would definitely learn some things from Coach Popovich and Jakob Poeltl. Will he ever be a shutdown guy or defensive stopper? Probably not, but that doesn’t doom the Spurs.
Orlando may be reluctant to pull the trigger on a trade like this, but if they can’t find a star to trade for, investing in their future with San Antonio could be worth a look.