Orlando has plenty of experience seeing former All-Star centers return with different teams.
This time around, when Nikola Vucevic returns to Amway Center with the Chicago Bulls on Friday night, it’s going to be quite different.
“It’s definitely going to be a tough game for me, I think, emotionally,’’ Vucevic told reporters. ‘‘To see all the people that I built a great relationship with all those years, some of my ex-teammates, as well. It will be great to be back there, for sure. I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of emotion that I have to control as the game goes on.’’
Magic fans have had their emotions toyed with over the years by former big men, having suffered through Shaquille O’Neal’s free agent defection and Dwight Howard’s trade demands. When both returned to Orlando for the first time, and in the years that followed, a jilted fan base greeted them with a villain’s welcome.
That won’t be the case for Vooch, who will get the hero’s welcome he deserves after nine seasons with the Magic, two All-Star selections and a mutual separation that perhaps wasn’t wanted but necessary.
Thank you for this very touching video and for the support and love all these years https://t.co/T4liwiyOeR— Nikola Vucevic (@NikolaVucevic) March 27, 2021
There is no animosity held by Magic fans or by Vooch, who was dealt to the Bulls with Al-Farouq Aminu at the trade deadline last season for Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr. and two first-round picks — one of which turned into Franz Wagner, the No. 8 pick in the 2021 draft. Vucevic’s love for Orlando was evident during his emotional post-trade media session.
The trade, the first of three on the day for a Magic team that has pressed the reset button so many times it’s ready to break off, came as a surprise to some. But not for Vucevic, who told reporters he was involved in the trade process.
“It wasn’t a situation where they traded me out of nowhere,’’ Vucevic said. ‘‘It was something that we discussed a lot, and it was mutually agreed. It wasn’t a situation where they told me I wasn’t going to get traded and then I get traded. A lot of it came from my communication with them, so it wasn’t a surprise for me.”
Vucevic returns having made more field goals in a Magic uniform than any other player. He’s also among the top-five franchise leaders in rebounds (2nd), points scored (3rd), blocks (3rd), games played (4th) and minutes (4th), and just outside the top-five in field goal percentage (6th) and steals (6th).
He expanded his range during the 2018-2019 season, becoming a legitimate stretch-five and a first-time All-Star while leading the Magic back to the postseason for the first time the 2012 Dwight Howard trade, a package he was acquired in and became the most valuable piece of.
Vucevic, who was averaging 24.5 points per game when the Magic traded him last season, was unable to get the Bulls into the playoffs last season, resulting in a second 2021 lottery pick for Orlando. When he played against the Magic for the first time post-trade in April in Chicago, Vooch had 29 points and 11 rebounds but the Magic won 115-106.
He’ll take the court for his Orlando homecoming as part of a “Big 4” with Zach LaVine, Lonzo Ball and DeMar DeRozan that have the 12-7 Bulls sitting second in the East.
Vucevic recently missed seven games after testing positive for COVID-19, returning on Wednesday in the Bulls’ dismal 118-113 loss to the now 2-15 Houston Rockets. Vooch has struggled offensively through 12 games played this season, averaging 13.7 points while shooting just 39.3 percent on 14.4 field goal attempts per game.
Perhaps for one night, the familiarity of Orlando will solve that.
‘‘Never will I ever have any bad feelings toward Orlando, it will always be positive,” Vucevic said. “It was time for the team to go in a different direction. It was time for something new to happen. It wasn’t working the way we wanted, and I think it worked out for both parties in the end.’’