The Chicago Bulls are heading for a collision course with Nikola Vucevic’s future. They could be in a situation where they have no better option than to retain him, even if it is not what some think is best.
This summer has seen some of the shine come off of this front office in terms of public opinion.
An 18-month stretch of drastic changes – that began in earnest with the trade for Vucevic – has fostered a certain expectation.
Now, faced with the reactions to their old ways resurfacing, we could see them revert to another old tactic – potentially holding onto a player far beyond what they should have after Vucevic showed signs of decline last season.
Vooch on the Loose
Vucevic saw dips in his averages this past season as he adjusted to being the Bulls’ third option and the in-season loss of Lonzo Ball to injury. Heading into the final season of his contract, this puts the Bulls in a bind, an Eastern Conference general manager told Heavy’s Sean Deveney.
“They are in a position where they really have to extend Vucevic because if they don’t, they’re likely to lose him next summer. They’re very concerned about the luxury tax and that looms over everything right now because if they give (Coby) White an extension and they keep Vucevic, they’re going to be around the tax number next year.”
The Bulls’ reluctance to venture into the tax could be defended. How many players were available that would have been worth going into the tax?
Players that would have taken this team to the next level?
General manager Marc Eversley said on draft night that he did not foresee such a player or move and the Bulls’ actions this offseason have reflected that, whether the court of public opinion agrees or not.
Still, there is some question about whether this is the best possible move for the franchise or a refusal to admit to a bad trade.
Who ‘Won’ the Vucevic Trade?
Trading for Vucevic has paid off for the Bulls in multiple ways, and not all of them have been actual play. He was instrumental in bringing DeMar DeRozan to Chicago last summer and was pivotal in bringing Goran Dragic this offseason.
Vucevic was third on the team in games played last season and tied for 13th among all centers.
However, the trade sapped the Bulls of a young player and multiple first-round picks, somewhat locking them into a window with the current group.
“They gave up Wendell Carter, who’s been really good, and they gave up their pick last year and Orlando took Franz Wagner, and he’s been really good. The Bulls still have to give Orlando their pick next year, too, so Chicago has a lot invested in making things work with Vucevic. I think they have some big regrets on Vucevic, he had some struggles last year and he is 32 [in October]. “
Carter signed a four-year, $50 million extension before this past season. Wagner earned All-Rookie honors.
Trading for DeRozan further locked the Bulls into this timeline.
But many of their moves this summer, such as drafting Dalen Terry and holding onto Patrick Williams, show a more forward-thinking approach. Combined with their decision to duck the luxury tax, those all-in trades over the last two seasons come into question.
The Bulls have pushed continuity this offseason. But that is only a good message if it pays off. Holding onto Williams and drafting Terry who both profile well for the modern NBA game makes sense.
Vucevic does not offer the positional versatility that is coveted despite his diverse skillset.
There are also signs that his production has never quite been what it has seemed. This is despite some of the gaudy numbers he put up with the Magic.
His points per shot attempt have ranked above the 50th percentile only three times in his career with the most recent occurrence coming back in 2015, per Cleaning the Glass. Last season, his PSA ranked in the 15th percentile, down from the 26th percentile with the Bulls in 2021.
Still, there were only three players to average at least 17.0 points and 11.0 boards last season, per NBA.com, and one of them was the reigning MVP Nikola Jokic.
Vucevic is on that list, perhaps, giving the Bulls more reason to hold onto him than not.