Denton: Heat Tried Getting Vucevic Before Magic Snagged Him in Trade From Sixers

By John Denton
March 7, 2013

ORLANDO – For those in search of just how great the potential will ultimately be in the coming years for Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic, consider this: None other than the defending champion Miami Heat worked feverishly last summer to try and trade for Vucevic to be the center for a team that would also feature LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

Fortunately for the Orlando Magic, they were the ones who beat the Heat to the punch, acquiring the blossoming 7-footer in a massive four-team, 12-player transaction. At the time, dealing Dwight Howard for an unheralded center such as Vucevic looked to be as one-sided a deal as a fat kid on a see-saw. But the fact that the Heat made a play for Vucevic and then the Magic had the wherewithal to execute the transaction shows just how highly regarded the second-year center is around the NBA.

Miami beat Orlando 97-96 on Wednesday night, but only after the Heat got an utterly dominant Vucevic out of the game because of fouls and LeBron James made a driving layup in the final seconds. But when the pulsating game was complete, it was James – the odds-on favorite to capture a fourth MVP trophy this season – made a point to go over and congratulate Orlando’s center on his dazzling 25-point, 21-rebound performance.

``LeBron told me after the game that I played real well and that means a lot coming from the best player in the NBA,’’ Vucevic said. ``That was nice. He told me, `Good job, big guy; keep playing hard; helluva game,’ something like that. When LeBron says that, it means a lot.’’

James’ words likely echoed the sentiments of Magic fans who are quite happy now that Vucevic is their cornerstone building block in the center. Whereas it took the Magic eight seasons to find a fixture at center after Shaquille O’Neal bolted in free agency in 1996, Orlando could have never imagined replacing Howard as quickly and as aptly as it has with Vucevic.

With performances like Wednesday’s and his 19-rebound effort late last month, Vucevic is showing the Magic just how good he can be when he decides to take a game over. What Magic coach Jacque Vaughn witnessed on Wednesday in Miami was a player willing his team back into a game and dominating with his relentless hustle on the glass.

``Really it’s a telling sound of how the mental approach is telling in this game. When you make up your mind and decide you are going to play a certain way and have a certain focus, a lot of time you can will yourself into a position,’’ Vaughn said. ``Last night was such a huge challenge for Nik. On the road, playing a team that playing well, he had played well against them last time and it usually is the setup for not playing well. But he accepted the challenge and he was really good.’’

Vucevic had a couple of factors seemingly working against him heading into Wednesday’s game. First, his play had tailed off ever-so-slightly in recent weeks as the games and minutes – both of which are the most he’s ever played in his life – started piling up on him. Then, Miami’s Chris Bosh guaranteed that Vucevic wouldn’t repeat his feat of 29 rebounds, which he accomplished on Jan. 31 the first time the Magic and Heat played.

Vucevic is a player who emotions remain fairly placid, but he admitted after the game that Bosh’s bold talk motivated him.

``I don’t look at (comments) a lot or what people say, but (I was motivated) a little bit,’’ Vucevic said. ``I was trying to be aggressive and help my team win. I haven’t be at a high level the last couple of games and I wanted to get back on track and help this team.’’

Never was that more apparent than in the third quarter when Vucevic almost single-handedly dug the Magic out of a 20-point hole. Much the way Howard used to do during his time in Orlando, Vucevic nearly had a double-double in the third quarter alone. His 10 points and nine rebounds (four on the offensive glass) allowed the Magic to outscore the Heat 34-22 in the period and pave the way for the late-game heroics.

Magic point guard Jameer Nelson said seeing the way that Vucevic fights when challenged and rises to the occasion in big games lets him know that the 22-year old center can be counted on to produce mental and physical toughness. Nelson has been impressed with how Vucevic was ready when he got the opportunity in Orlando, and how he’s continued to push himself to greater heights all season.

``He did such a great job for us and he’s been doing it all year long by being so consistent,’’ Nelson said. ``I’m just happy for the guy because he’s getting the chance to play and he’s showing what he can do. This is something that young guys around the league can take notice of – when you get an opportunity you have to be ready like Vooch.’’

Vucevic’s ability to push through fatigue has allowed him to stay among the NBA leaders in several categories and put himself in the running for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award. He is second in the NBA in total rebounds (706), third in double-doubles (34) and fourth in rebounding average (11.4). And as the Magic’s franchise leader in rebounds in a game (29), the only threat to break that mark anytime soon is by Vucevic himself.

Not only has Vucevic been able to show the Heat his vast talents – his only two 20/20 games have come this season against the Heat – but he’s also been able to display his talents to the basketball world this season. Vucevic said that while he’s proud of what he’s accomplished, he still has plenty more room for growth in his game.

``It’s only a year-and-a-half in the NBA for me. I’m still a young guy and I still have to prove myself at this level,’’ he said somewhat sheepishly. ``I think I’ve shown some people what I can do and I’ve earned some respect, but I still have a lot of work to do.’’

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