Bulls GM Gets Honest About Making Nikola Vucevic the ‘No. 1’ Priority

Nikola Vucevic, Chicago Bulls

Getty Nikola Vucevic #9 of the Chicago Bulls.

The Chicago Bulls were aggressive in retaining big man Nikola Vucevic.

They gave the two-time All-Star a three-year, $60 million contract extension before free agency even began.

But general manager Marc Eversley shed some light on their thinking behind locking up what he called their “No. 1 priority” in Vucevic, who will turn 33 years old one day before the Bulls open the regular season.

“I’m excited for Vooch,” Eversley said on an upcoming episode of the “Bulls Talk Podcast”, per NBC Sports Chicago’s K.C. Johnson on August 19. “There’s not many starting centers in the NBA. So if Vooch were to go away, how would you replace him? Those options were just not appealing to us. So retaining him became the No. 1 goal of the offseason.”

Vucevic’s $18.5 million cap hit in 2023-24 ranks 13th among all centers, per Spotrac.

He averaged 17.6 points, 11.0 rebounds, and 3.6 assists this past season. He also enjoyed a bounceback season from beyond the arc, connecting on 34.9% of his deep looks in 2022-23, though he was shooting 35.6% from three before the All-Star break.

Vucevic also took fewer shots after the break, a recurring theme in his Bulls tenure as he shares the floor with two other score-first players in DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine.

Bulls Urged to Feed Nikola Vucevic the Ball

“Why can’t the Bulls work him a little deeper into their offensive equation? He has limitations on defense, so the hope is his offensive skill surpasses what he gives back on the offensive end,” wrote Zach Buckley of Bleacher Report on August 19. “That can only happen if his number is being called early and often.”

The Bulls were 18-15 when Vucevic took more than the 14 shot attempts he averaged last season and 22-24 when he didn’t. Vucevic finished third with 51 double-doubles, sporting a 29-22 record in those games.

Plenty of evidence suggests that the Bulls are successful when Vucevic is. But getting that more consistently has been a struggle, though he remains an appreciated part of the Bulls’ roster.

“Vučević … has seen his scoring output and offensive involvement decline,” Buckley noted. “The Bulls should think long and hard about bucking that trend, particularly if they hope to get positive value out of the three-year, $60 million extension they gave him just ahead of free agency opening.”

Nikola Vucevic Ranked 2nd Most-Valuable Bull in Trade

There was some consternation surrounding Vucevic’s extension. But executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas doubled down on his belief that trading for the big man has been a success.

The deal has since been panned as one of the worst in quite some time despite Karnisovas’ assertion.

There was also some optimism that, should things go awry again this season, they would be able to flip him at some point. But Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times has pumped the brakes on that, ranking Vucevic as the second most-valuable Bull in potential trade talks behind DeRozan.

On top of not being able to be traded just yet due to signing his extension in June, the new CBA also put a damper on teams’ interest in taking on contracts such as his.

“The concern, however, is that middle-tier salaries … might be frowned upon by teams already carrying multiple maximum-contract players,” Cowley wrote on August 19. “And the new CBA could very well be a killer when it comes to trades for those in the middle range.”

Nothing from either side has suggested they are looking to move on any time soon. But things can change fast, however, and the Bulls made this move amid a changing NBA landscape.

Read More
Comment Here
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments