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Bulls big man Nikola Vucevic prepared for emotional return to Orlando

The trade that sent Vucevic from the Magic to the Bulls last March was a message sent by the Bulls’ front office to the rest of the league. It also was a reminder for Vucevic that his former organization did right by him throughout the process.

“Never will I ever have any bad feelings toward Orlando,” Nikola Vucevic said. “It will always be positive.”
“Never will I ever have any bad feelings toward Orlando,” Nikola Vucevic said. “It will always be positive.”
Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

HOUSTON — There were no lies or whispers through 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 the Magic always will hold a special place in his heart.

Not only did the city and organization raise him, but when the time came for him to depart, it was on his terms in a business where players often are treated more like commodities than family.

‘‘Yeah, it wasn’t 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 that we discussed a lot, and it was mutually agreed. It wasn’t a situation where they told me I wasn’t going to get traded and then I get traded. A lot of it came from my communication with them, so it wasn’t a surprise for me.

‘‘Never will I ever have any bad feelings toward 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 wasn’t working the way we wanted, and I think it worked out for both parties in the end.’’

With the trade deadline approaching in March, the Bulls sent big man Wendell Carter Jr., forward Otto Porter Jr. and two first-round picks to the Magic for Vucevic and forward Al-Farouq Aminu. It was a steep price to pay, but it was one the Bulls were willing to roll the dice on with the bigger picture in mind.

Yes, they were adding a talented, versatile center to the mix. But it was also about making the Bulls more of a destination place by teaming him with guard Zach LaVine. Even more important, it sent the message that the Bulls’ front office was willing to be aggressive in attempting to build a contender.

Guards Alex Caruso and Lonzo Ball and forward DeMar DeRozan said similar things when they were introduced as new Bulls in the summer: Playing alongside LaVine and Vucevic were keys for them.

‘‘I thought it was huge — and for a couple of reasons,’’ coach Billy Donovan said of the Bulls’ acquisition of Vucevic. ‘‘One, he’s a really, really good player and an even better guy. And when guys start to come in to play with other players and they look at the personnel, I think what ends up happening is, who wouldn’t want to play with a guy like [Vucevic]?

‘‘Because, believe it or not, he’s a pass-first guy. He’s a facilitating big. You know if you move and cut, he’s going to get [the ball] to you. He’s going to throw the ball out of the low post. He makes it a little bit 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 side. . . . If you’re Alex or DeMar, you’re looking at it like, ‘I would like 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 set to come in for the game, and he knows it will be an emotional reunion.

‘‘It’s definitely going to be a tough game for me, I think, emotionally,’’ Vucevic said. ‘‘To see all the people that I built a great relationship with all those years — some of my ex-teammates, as well. It will be great to be back there, for sure.

‘‘I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of emotion that I have to control as the game goes on.’’