The Chicago Bulls (16-21) have had issues playing for each other. So says veteran guard Goran Dragic, one of the few outside additions to the team this past offseason giving him a unique perspective on a rather close-knit group.
Dragic put that specific dynamic in the spotlight amid the team’s reported internal chaos which primarily revolved around DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine.
But the discourse around them is much different than it is for Nikola Vucevic.
The embattled Bulls big man is often the subject of fans’ ire and the key outgoing piece in many hypothetical trade scenarios; something made easier by his diminished play since arriving and exorbitant – but expiring – contract. That discourse, says Dragic, is one thing that needs to change in a hurry.
Goran Dragic Backs Nikola Vucevic
“When you have to do what…‘Vooch’ is doing, it’s not possible to live up to previous expectations,’’ Dragic said per Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times. “There’s only one ball, and three guys that can score. Each guy can score in different ways from a different position”.
Vucevic’s raw numbers have taken a hit for the second consecutive season following his 2020 All-Star appearance.
He entered their eventual 145-134 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers averaging 16.6 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 2.9 assists; all drops from last year.
And yet, Vucevic was also scoring on a career-best 59.1% true shooting while raising his slash line from .473/.314/.760 last season to .504/.366/.843 this year. The shortcomings of the overall roster have also put undue stress on the big man who is often left on an island while trying to cover up for his teammates.
“People don’t get it,’’ Dragic said. ‘‘They only see the numbers. That’s not fair…it’s easy to talk about sacrifice if it’s not you. And if it’s not you, who’s doing the sacrificing? When your time comes to sacrifice, everyone can see what you’re really about.’’
Dragic compared Vucevic’s situation popular scapegoat to that of Chris Bosh as a member of the “Heatles” alongside LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
“At the end of the day, it should be just about winning,” said Dragic.
The Bulls’ issue is, even in their first year together, that Heat squad had more postseason success to point to as a harbinger of good things to come, making it all the way to the NBA Finals in 2011. There is not that same level of optimism with these Bulls.
That was fueled by their struggles against top teams showing up in a five-game dismissal from the postseason last year by the Milwaukee Bucks. This season it has been the inconsistent play that has led to a losing record (4-8) against teams with a losing record including a 133-118 loss to the Houston Rockets who have the worst record in the Western Conference.
If their inconsistencies continue, Vucevic would also be who they would look to move first.
Spotlight on DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine
Arguably the most notable part of Dragic’s assertion about Vucevic is that it comes not long after he called out the team for playing as individuals.
It is similar rhetoric to his comments about the Brooklyn Nets team he was a part of last season.
“I played with some stars, like Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, and I have to admit that it was quite difficult because the focus was not the team, but more the individual performances of the individual players,” Dragić told Slovenian newspaper Vecer.
The Bulls don’t have a Durant or even an Irving on this roster. But they have not lacked for drama from rumors that DeRozan and/or LaVine could seek trades to the reports of the fighting. They even had a surprising (and late) announcement of head coach Billy Donovan’s contract extension signed before the season began but reported on in November.
Going forward, it seems clear that Dragic believes that one of the Bulls’ Big Three is still doing his part.
It’s up to the other two to step up and make some sacrifices.