Insider Sets Expectation for Bulls Star Nikola Vucevic’s Next Contract

Nikola Vucevic, Chicago Bulls

Getty Nikola Vucevic of the Chicago Bulls.

The Chicago Bulls, who leaned into continuity last offseason, have several critical decisions to make this time around. Arguably at the top of the list is what to do with unrestricted free agent Nikola Vucevic.

“The teams that would have the cap room to sign Vucevic aren’t ready to contend, which helps the Bulls,” wrote Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times on May 6. “Expect a price tag at $18 million per year. Where it gets interesting is whether that will be a three-year deal or shorter.”

There have been whispers of mutual interest in a new deal from both Vucevic, 32, and Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas. Vucevic has said that he would listen to an offer of a contract extension, but, he said, he has not even been approached about one.

To Cowley’s point, that is where it could get interesting with Vucevic openly acknowledging that he will explore his options this summer.

He’s even entertained the idea of a return to the Orlando Magic, though not necessarily soon.

Vuevic just wrapped a four-year, $100 million pact that is viewed as an overpay considering his level of production relative to the numbers that he put up during his eight and a half seasons in Orlando. He averaged 17.6 points per game in his only two full seasons in Chicago after putting up averages of 20.8, 19.6 and 23.4 points in the previous three seasons.

He has noted that his role is vastly different with the Bulls than it was with the Magic which, playing alongside stars DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine, rings true.

For what it’s worth, LaVine – the current face of the franchise – offered a ringing endorsement.

“Vooch has been great ever since he came here from Orlando,” Zach LaVine said April 15 during his end-of-season media availability on the Bulls’ YouTube channel. “He’s one of the most skilled big dudes. He doesn’t get enough credit for what he does for the team. He’s one of the best centers in the league, so, me personally, I’m gonna be trying to swindle him and try to keep them here as much as I can as well. … We all love Vooch here and appreciate him.”

Nikola Vucevic’s Return Potentially Best Option for Both Sides

At $18 million per season, Vucevic would tie Atlanta Hawks big man Clint Capela for the 13th-highest annual value among centers. That‘s four slots lower than he currently ranks and would count as a (much-needed) discount for the Bulls. And it could be the best the 32-year-old can expect on the open market which would play into the Bulls’ hands.

“If he can’t stay in Chicago, Vooch is probably going to have to take a bargain somewhere,” a rival general manager tells Heavy Sports NBA insider Sean Deveney. “Just go to a place he wants to be and accept he is not going to get a max deal for it — or anything close.”

There is a team that may be more talented than their cellar-dweller status would indicate and that could make a run at Vucevic.

“Charlotte might be willing to make a real run at him,” the GM speculated. “They have had an eye on him for a while, he has played for Steve Clifford before. If he would take a short deal, a one-year deal in the low $20s, I would say, that could get him to a place like Charlotte. I think he wants to stay in Chicago, but the question is whether they want to keep him there.”

Nikola Vucevic Fits What Bulls Want to Do

For all of his defensive shortcomings, Vucevic fits the Bulls’ offense as a floor-spacing big man and functional offensive hub. While he has been unable to replicate his 40% shooting mark from beyond the arc in 2019 – his first All-Star campaign – he did shoot a respectable 34.9% in 2023.

There were seven centers to shoot at least 34.0% from three on at least 4.0 attempts per game last season and just the 48th player to do so in NBA history.

That fits right in with Karnisovas’ desire to change the Bulls’ shot profile for next season.

Vucevic is also one of just four big men ever in the NBA to post averages of at least 17.0 points, 11.0 rebounds, and 3.0 assists while shooting 52% from the floor and 34% from three or better. One of those players is Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon while another is two-time MVP Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets.

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