Our 5-part Saturday series focusing on the Magic's position battles heading into their Oct. 1 training camp continues.
OK, there's really no race for the starting spot.
Nik Vucevic is the incumbent – and landslide winner.
But the fact there's no competition says a lot for Vucevic and for a team that was forced last summer to trade its all-star center, one Dwight Howard.
And what were the odds a young big man that the Magic landed in the Howard deal would be a surprisingly promising replacement?
GM Rob Hennigan's keen eye netted Vucevic from the Philadelphia 76ers in the massive four-team blockbuster.
Vooch has gone from an unheralded mid-round draft choice to solidifying his position as the Magic's center of the future if he can build on his resume' this season.
Vucevic, 6-feet-11, 240 pounds, doesn't compare to Howard athletically or on the defensive end --- not by any stretch.
But he provides a more well-rounded offensive game than Howard did. Vooch also showed he can collect rebounds at a Dwight-like rate at times, finishing second in rebounding to Howard last season and mimicking Howard as a double-double machine.
Vucevic, the 76ers' No. 16 pick in the 2011 draft out of USC, averaged 13.1 points and 11.9 boards. He recorded 46 double-doubles – the third-highest total in the NBA. He feasted on Miami with two 20-20 games, including a franchise-record 29-rebound performance.
The best back-up to Vooch is veteran power forward Glen Davis. He was hurt most of last season and could miss camp with a lingering foot injury.
Second-year forward/center Kyle O'Quinn, 6-11, was solid in replacing Vucevic in the five consecutive games he missed with a concussion. O'Quinn recorded four double-doubles, including a 23-point, 11-rebound effort against Charlotte.
Orlando signed 260-pound power forward Jason Maxiell, who can play center for stretches at 6-7.
Vucevic, who turns 23 in late October, said he would be working on his strength and agility this offseason. Too passive at times, he needs to establish himself in the post with greater force and attitude. Any upgrade defensively could vault him into the top-10 center rankings.
So you might be wondering: His job secure, what will motivate Vucevic to improve?
What will, in part, push him is what pushes all players: Money. And the chance to make lots of it.
The Magic's rebuild now includes a possible $50 million payday to Vucevic – much more if he steps up his game.
He is in the third year of a four-year contract. The club can offer him an extension anytime between the end of the upcoming season and up until Oct. 31, 2014. If there's no extension agreed upon, Vucevic and the Magic can wait until he becomes a restricted free agent in the summer of 2015, and Orlando can match any offer.
Vooch had to be applauding contracts landed by two third-year centers in off-Broadway markets this summer. Minnesota signed Nikola Pekovic to a five-year, $60 million deal, and Milwaukee gave defensive-minded Larry Sanders a four-year, $44 million extension.
Teams can't afford to lose quality big men, especially the Magic, given their history with Shaq and Dwight. That puts Vucevic in a good spot.
The Magic feel fortunate to have him, but will closely evaluate his progress and worth in earnest this season. Under Hennigan, you get the sense he isn't handing out near-max or max contracts like Christmas cookies.
Lob City: Goodbye nickname?
While Chris Paul can put on a crowd-pleasing show throwing alley-oops to the dunking duo of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, the new sheriff preaches defense. You already get a feeling as Rivers settles into his new L.A. condo that the Clippers' identity will have to change for them to be a title threat.
"We've proved that we can be a exciting team," Rivers told the L.A. Times. "We have to prove that we can be a good team."
Rivers' influence on the defensive end worked in Boston. He'll be lobbying hard in "Lob City."
Talking about practice
Have you ever wondered about the back story to Allen Iverson's infamous "practice" rant?
Iverson was asked about missing practice in 2002 when he was with the Sixers and said, "Practice!? We're talking about practice! We ain't talking about the game!"
Payton admits that he and Iverson talked while the two were out having some drinks one summer. "You know, we had a little bit too many," Payton said. "I just told him for real, my coach, George Karl, didn't let me practice. So that was it. I said, 'You have to stop practicing.'"
But after watching Iverson's rant, Payton said he thought, "Oh, no, not this. Don't say it like that, Allen."
This 'n' That
LeBron James was asked in an ABC interview to pick his top three players of all-time (Why just three? That's a good number for a bowling team. Ah, who knows.) Anyway, King James named Michael Jordan, Julius Erving and Larry Bird. No Magic Johnson, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. It's LeBron's list, and you like who you like. My top 3: Jordan, Wilt and Kobe.…I think Cliff Paul would have made a better union prez than his long-lost twin, Chris Paul…LeBron has addressed his only visible flaw: His retreating hairline. James shaved his head recently. Jordan was perceived as the first star to begin the bald trend back when he was known as "Hair Jordan."