The trade deadline for the 2020-21 NBA season is Thursday, March 25.
Ahead of the deadline, Orlando Magic centre Nikola Vucevic is reportedly drawing interest around the league. One team in particular that is interested in the two-time All-Star is the Boston Celtics, per Shams Charania of The Athletic.
The Celtics are interested in Magic two-time All-Star Nikola Vucevic and Detroit's Jerami Grant, per @ShamsCharania.- The Athletic (@TheAthletic) March 4, 2021
📚: https://t.co/r1SZjfLJeV pic.twitter.com/dU3YJsroM4
Let's look at what a potential trade might look like for both sides.
Why it would make sense for the Celtics: Vucevic has been one of the best centres in the league this season. He's averaging a career-best 24.6 points to go along with 11.6 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.0 steals. He leads all centres with 96 made 3-pointers, doing so at a 41.2 percent clip. While he's never been known as much of a defender, Vucevic would be an upgrade over Daniel Theis and Tristan Thompson offensively, giving the Celtics a knockdown shooter, as well as one of the league's best post-up scorers and roll men. The combination of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Vucevic would give the Celtics one of the better trios in the Eastern Conference.
Why it would make sense for the Magic: According to Charania, rival teams expect that any haul for Vucevic "would have to be massive." Assuming Brown and Tatum are off the table, would the Magic be interested in a package headlined by Marcus Smart or Kemba Walker? The alternative would be packaging together some of their younger players such as Aaron Nesmith, Payton Pritchard, Romeo Langford, Grant Williams and Robert Williams. The Celtics would be able to sweeten any deal with draft picks, as they currently own all of their first-round picks between now and 2027.
As good as Vucevic has been this season, he doesn't quite fit the development timeline as some of the other players on Orlando's roster. Trading him would give the Magic an opportunity to increase their draft equity and/or find players who are on the same development timeline as Markelle Fultz, Jonathan Isaac, Mo Bamba and Cole Anthony.
Financial implications: The Celtics wouldn't have to match Vucevic's salary of $26.0 million this season. Boston's best bet would be using the $28.5 million trade exception it acquired when it signed and traded Gordon Hayward to the Charlotte Hornets in the offseason. Where it gets tricky is the Celtics are hard-capped after using their full mid-level exception to sign Thompson. That doesn't mean the Celtics wouldn't be able to use their trade exception to acquire Vucevic, but they'd have to send some salary out to make it work.
An appealing part of Vucevic's contract is that it decreases in each of the next two seasons. He'll make $24.0 million in 2021-22, followed by $22.0 million in 2022-23. He has no player options or team options in his contract, so the soonest he'll hit free agency is 2023.
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