Neither the Chicago Bulls nor Orlando Magic are likely to make the Eastern Conference playoffs this season – the Bulls could get into the play-in tournament – but that didn't stop them from making a huge deal Thursday ahead of the 3 p.m. ET NBA trade deadline as Chicago landed two-time All-Star center Nikola Vucevic and throw-in Al Farouq Aminu from Orlando for Wendell Carter Jr., throw-in Otto Porter and first-round picks in 2021 and 2023. The SportsLine Projection Model forecasts a slight jump for the Bulls immediately. The Magic are fading deeper into irrelevance.
The 30-year-old Vucevic is averaging 24.5 points, 11.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists -- he is only player in Magic history to average at least 21 points, 11 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game in any three-season span -- and is signed to a reasonable four-year, $100 million contract through the 2022-23 season. He's one of the five best centers in the NBA.
Clearly, the Bulls (19-24) are pushing for the playoffs now – they sit 10th in the East entering play Thursday, which would be the last slot in the play-in tournament. There is also talk Chicago is still chasing Pelicans point guard Lonzo Ball. The 2021 first-round pick the Bulls sent out is top-four protected, meaning it likely will convey this year for Orlando.
While Vucevic might already be the best center Chicago has ever had, it's interesting that the Bulls have given up on Carter already as he was the No. 7 overall pick of the 2018 draft – but chosen by a previous front office regime, picked one spot ahead of young Cavs star Collin Sexton and four spots ahead of young Thunder star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Carter Jr. is a solid player, averaging 10.9 points and 7.8 rebounds but he can't stay healthy. Giving up two first-round picks is dangerous.
Before the trade, the SportsLine Projection Model (see below) forecasted the Bulls to win 34.6 games in the 72-game schedule and with a 51.2 percent chance of the playoffs. Now, the Bulls are projected to win 34.8 games and have a 54 percent shot at the playoffs – the actual eight-team Eastern Conference postseason, not the play-in tournament.
Chicago is next in action Saturday in San Antonio and presumably Vucevic will debut there if he passes all COVID protocols.
Orlando probably isn't done dealing, with the Magic expected to ship forward Aaron Gordon out today – most likely to Boston. Guard Evan Fournier also is likely to be a goner.
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