HOUSTON – There were no lies or whispers through the back channels. Instead, it was eye-to-eye conversation and dialogue.
It was more than center Nikola Vucevic could have asked for. That’s why Orlando, Florida and Magic will always have a special place in his heart.
Not only did the city and organization raise him, but when the time came for him to travel, it was on his terms in a business where players are often treated more like goods than family.
” Yes, it was not a situation where they traded me out of nowhere, ” Vucevic said of the deal that sent him from the Magic to the Bulls last season. ” It was something we discussed a lot and it was mutually agreed. It was not a situation where they told me I would not be traded and so I was traded. Much of it came from my communication with them, so it was not a surprise to me.
” I will never ever have any bad feelings towards Orlando; it will always be positive. It was time for the team to go in a different direction. It was time for something new to happen. It did not work out the way we wanted, and I think both parties succeeded in the end. ”
As the trade deadline approached in March, Bulls big man sent Wendell Carter Jr., forward Otto Porter Jr. and two first-round picks for Magic for Vucevic and forward Al-Farouq Aminu. It was a high price to pay, but it was one that the Bulls were willing to roll the dice on with the bigger picture in mind.
Yes, they added a talented, versatile center to the mix. But it was also about making the Bulls more of a destination by merging him with guard Zach LaVine. More importantly, it sent the message that the Bulls’ front office was willing to be aggressive in trying to build a challenger.
Guards Alex Caruso and Lonzo Ball and striker DeMar DeRozan said similar things when they were introduced as the new Bulls this summer: Playing with LaVine and Vucevic was the keys for them.
” I thought it was huge – and for a couple of reasons, ” coach Billy Donovan said of the Bulls’ acquisition of Vucevic. ” First of all, he’s a really, really good player and an even better guy. And when guys start coming in to play with other players and they look at the staff, I think that ends up happening, is, who does not want to play with a guy like [Vucevic]?
” Because, believe it or not, he’s a pass-first guy. He is a facilitator great. You know that if you move and cut, he will get it [the ball] for you. He’s going to throw the ball out of the low post. He makes it a little easier where you always have an outlet because you can throw it back to him, he can shoot it, or he can get it to the next page. . . . If you’re Alex or DeMar, you look at it like, ‘I want to play with a guy like this.’ ”
As for Vucevic, Friday will be his first return to Orlando since the deal. His entire family is ready to take part in the fight, and he knows it will be an emotional reunion.
” It’s definitely going to be a tough fight for me, I think, emotionally, ” Vucevic said. ” To see all the people I’ve built a good relationship with all these years – including some of my former teammates. It will definitely be great to be back there.
” I’m sure there will be a lot of emotions that I have to control as the game goes on. ”