Athleticism, physicality, toughness, defense – these words have been used repeatedly to describe the Orlando Magic's direction this offseason. The first domino fell when Serge Ibaka was brought in from Oklahoma City, and on Saturday came the second – a four-year, $72 million dollar contract with Bismack Biyombo. This is the second coming of Vogel Ball, but in pinstripes instead of mustard yellow.
Nikola Vucevic has many good qualities. He is humble, offensively gifted, a tenacious rebounder, but he is none of those new core values. Where do these changes leave the smooth shooting Montenegrin big man?
After one franchise cornerstone was sent packing on draft night, it became clear that no one on the roster was safe. General manager Rob Hennigan is cleaning house, and fighting for his job.
For the time being, Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel states that Magic plan on retaining all three of the big men.
With the agreement with Biyombo, the Magic envision a 3-man big man rotation of Vucevic, Biyombo and Ibaka.— Josh Robbins (@JoshuaBRobbins) July 2, 2016
Each member of Orlando's three towers is unique, and each brings something different to the table. The Magic desperately need scoring, and Vucevic lead the team in points per game last season with 18.2.
The plans of signing a go-to scorer in the offseason are over – even Jamal Crawford would be too expensive now. Shot creating is an expensive skill, and business is booming. With the Magic roster constructed as it is now, there is little to none of that.
Rob Hennigan is trading in hope. For the team to make the playoffs, he's betting that each member of the Magic roster can step up and fill a role that they never have before. Elfrid Payton would have to learn to increase his scoring, be a better leader, and return to serviceable as a defender.
Evan Fournier would have to be a true scorer, building on his breakout campaign from last year. Aaron Gordon would be a starting small forward, meaning that he'd have to shoot like one to create enough space for the offense. Serge Ibaka would have to be a shot creator, and an integral part of the game plan – not just a defender who exists in the shadows of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
And then comes the center position. Do the Magic go with the rim running, shot rejecting, fast break dunking Biymobo, who has a career average of 4.6 points a game? Or do they go with Vucevic, the tried and true scorer that has been there and done it before?
They need a closer, someone that is comfortable with the ball in his hands and the game on the line. Vucevic has been that guy before. He's bared the burden of being the best player on a losing team, of learning English as he tried to explain why his efforts weren't enough.
Still, it's becoming harder and harder to imagine that role will continue. Biyombo isn't being paid $18 million dollars a year to come off the bench. Like Ibaka, he too will surely want a bigger role.
In an ideal world, Vucevic could be like an upgraded Marreese Speights. The Magic's Montenegrin Mo Buckets would come off the bench to decimate other teams' second units. The best defenders in the NBA have been struggling to guard Vucevic for years, he would be a nightmare for their backups.
Still, the locker room dynamic between Vucevic and Ibaka has yet to be seen, let alone the one between Vucevic and Biyombo. How will the silent backbone of the franchise react now that they've brought in not one, but two replacements for him?
The closest thing Vucevic has ever been to bristly with the media was at the end of last season when a groin injury caused him to come off the bench for four games. He insisted that this was just temporary – that he was an NBA starter. Every question, even the lighthearted ones by his friends in the media, was met with a stoney gaze. He wanted to let them know he wasn't joking.
This free agency market has been especially kind to centers, exposing the need for quality big men across the league. Timofey Mozgov got $64 million dollars to go to the Lakers, Joakim Noah, fresh off a season-ending injury, is going to the Knicks at $72 million. That's not even factoring in big name guys like Dwight Howard and Andre Drummond, both of whom will make over $20 million dollars a year on their new deals.
Vucevic, on the other hand, is scheduled to make just under $12 million dollars this offseason.
This deal is easily movable, and the market is there. The only way the Magic can afford to move on from the franchise's tenth leading scorer in points per game is if they can replace him with another. Though the team may look wonky and out of sync with Vucevic, without him, they will struggle to compete with the highest scoring version of the league in history.