The 76ers went for the big splash.
At the time, sending Nikola Vucevic to the Orlando Magic as part of a deal to acquire Andrew Bynum seemed like the right idea.
No one knew Bynum would never play a game for the Sixers because of bilateral bone bruises in both knees.
No one knew that Vucevic would develop into a double-double machine.
Or did they?
“I always thought if I could get consistent minutes, I could put up numbers and help my team win,” Vucevic said Tuesday night as the Magic visited Wells Fargo Arena. “I just needed to play every night.”
That wasn’t happening under former Sixers coach Doug Collins.
When the blockbuster trade was completed between four teams before last season, Vucevic began to flourish with the Magic. As he continued to play well, the questions came about the 16th-overall pick in the 2011 draft.
“Reporters would ask me and I would always say the same thing,” Vucevic said. “It’s playing time. I always had confidence in my ability. Knowing you’re going to be on the court helps a lot. Then you have to produce and my teammates have done a great job here keeping me real involved in the offense. I think all facets of my game have improved, though. I feel like my defense has come a really long way.”
Vucevic missed Tuesday’s game against the Sixers with an injured ankle. But there are many games ahead to continue proving his mettle.
“I don’t take things personally and I don’t blame the Sixers because they made a decision,” Vucevic said. “It sent me to a great place and I like everything about where I am with the Magic. It’s a great organization. I feel very lucky to be there. I feel my game is improving all the time.”
So do his teammates.
“Nik is so consistent,” said guard Arron Afflalo, who scored a career-high 43 points against the Sixers. “He’s a great shooter and he has a great feel around the basket. On defense, he plugs the middle and blocks shots. He’s a budding star if you ask me. He’s a team guy and will do anything to win. For such a young player, he’s very poised.”
But Vucevic said he fully expected to remain with the Sixers.
When they went for the big splash with Bynum and it backfired, Vucevic ultimately wound up with the Magic.
“I’m very glad to be here,” Vucevic said. “The Sixers made a business decision. For me as a player, I knew I had to come in and work hard. I got minutes. That’s what really helped. I hope to be here for a long, long time.”