Only 20 games removed from the NBA trade deadline, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone willing to call the Chicago Bulls trade for Nikola Vucevic a successful move thus far.
Ahead of their Saturday night matchup with the Atlanta Hawks, the team has gone just 7-13 since March 25.
And Vucevic’s strong numbers have proven more of an empty calorie diet than a hearty, fulfilling spread.
He’s averaging 22.3 points, 10.9 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and one steal per game since arriving in Chicago.
But his latest game, a seven-for-27 shooting performance from the field and Bulls loss, has some questioning the team’s decision to acquire the All-Star.
The latest Bulls news straight to your inbox! Join the Heavy on Bulls newsletter here!
A Swing and a Miss?
In his latest piece for Bleacher Report, The 10 Biggest Disappointments of the 2020-21 NBA Season, Grant Hughes hand-picked 10 of the most anti-climactic narratives from around the NBA this season.
He included the Chicago Bulls, and their mid-season trade for two-time All-Star Nikola Vucevic:
There’s no way to say the Nikola Vucevic trade has been a success to this point. It was a win-now move that hasn’t produced enough wins to get the Chicago Bulls out of the fringes of the play-in mix.
Hughes suggests that the move made by Bulls’ executive Arturas Karnisovas and the front office may have been a rushed decision:
This was Step-Skipping 101, a hasty move made by a team that overestimated its current strength. Nothing in Vucevic’s track record suggested he was anything but a floor-raiser—not the kind of foundational talent around which you could construct a high-level winner.
He’s not wrong. There’s a reason that the Orlando Magic, in their two postseason appearances, won just two games total in Vucevic’s tenure.
Hughes doesn’t see a clear path forward for either Chicago or the All-Star:
Sure, Chicago could reduce Vucevic’s role and hand-pick matchups less likely to exploit his limitations. But that only makes the trade look worse. Why surrender such massive draft equity for a guy you have to use judiciously—one who, at his apex, only managed to get the Magic the seventh seed in a weak Eastern Conference?
Chicago made a gamble, assuming the guys they already had in-house could bridge the gap between the big man’s effectivity and lacking off the floor impact.
So far, it has yet to pay off. But it can’t be entirely blamed on Nikola Vucevic.
He’s done exactly what’s been asked of him, and in a situation that hasn’t warranted his above and beyond efforts.
Chicago Has Bigger Issues
What Hughes didn’t mention in his column is the rough overall state of the Chicago Bulls, and the potential side effects.
All-Star guard Zach LaVine played two games next to Vucevic following the trade deadline, before missing the next game with an ankle injury.
When he returned, he didn’t look quite himself. LaVine played the next seven games before being entered into the league’s health and safety protocol.
Chicago’s original All-Star hasn’t played since April 14th, a span of nine games that’s seen the Bulls go 4-5.
Is it fair to critique the team’s dice roll at the trade deadline, knowing the clear intent behind the deal was making the playoffs? There’s an argument that with LaVine healthy and available, they would still be in the playoff picture.
Vucevic hasn’t been able to fill the shoes of a number one option, but when did he ever in Orlando?
Perhaps this stretch should serve only as a reminder of his flaws as a player, and not a final judgement on his future in Chicago.