Bulls Could Play ‘Hardball’ in Free Agency, Rival Exec Says

Chicago Bulls

Getty Ayo Dosunmu #12 and Nikola Vucevic #9 of the Chicago Bulls.

Things could get tricky for the Chicago Bulls this offseason as they try to manufacture improvements for the roster with limited means. One rival Eastern Conference executive described the Bulls’ situation  — an inconsistent regular season and no playoff berth — during a conversation with Heavy Sports NBA insider Sean Deveney.

“A lot of their situation depends on what happens with Nikola Vucevic and then Ayo Dosunmu and Coby White,” the exec told Heavy Sports. “Those (last) two guys are restricted, and maybe Chicago plays hardball with them.”

Vucevic, 32, is coming off a 17-point, 11-rebound per-game season, one of five players to do so last season.

He also appeared in all 82 games for the first time.

Vucevic is also the last player to have a 17-point, 10-rebound-per-game season while appearing in at least 80 games, also doing so while with the Orlando Magic in 2018-19. Vucevic, an unrestricted free agent, has entertained the idea of playing elsewhere next season – including Orlando.

“We’ll see what happens when the time comes to discuss a new contract,” Vucevic told Michael Scotto of HoopsHype on February 9. “I feel good here. I’m in a good place. If they want to continue, we can come to an agreement. I’d consider it for sure, but also, being a free agent, I’ll have opportunities to look at other stuff.”

A ‘Good Solution’ for Bulls, Vucevic

Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas said that he wants to keep Vucevic in Chicago.

“He’s been awesome for us,” Karnisovas said in his exit interview on the Bulls’ YouTube channel on April 15. “He’s been available in all 82 games. He’s been our iron man…He’s a double-double machine he’s a top-three player in double-doubles this year. So he’s a huge part of this team we hope to retain.”

Karnisovas traded two first-round picks, Wendell Carter Jr., and Al-Farouq Aminu for the two-time All-Star at the 2021 trade deadline; a hefty price that could play a part in the desire to keep him in tow. Bulls insider K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago speculated on something that could work for both sides.

“I think a good solution might be to do a short-term deal at slightly above his 2022-23 salary,” Johnson wrote in his mailbag from May 25. “Say, two years and $48-50 million or three years at $66-72 million.”

Assuming Karnisovas holds to word and keeps Vucevic, the real conundrum begins with young guards Dosunmu and White.

Bulls Could Have to Pick Ayo Dosunmu or Coby White

“They can have the full midlevel [exception] depending on how things work out with those other guys,” the exec said. “If they keep Vucevic and Ayo for about $30 million in the first year, they can use the full midlevel to help their shooting,”

Dosunmu, 23, averaged 8.6 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 2.6 assists this past season, suffering a sophomore slump following an impressive rookie campaign.

He opened the season as the starting point guard but lost his role to Alex Caruso and then, later Patrick Beverley. He offers good size and toughness at the lead guard spot but struggled with turnovers and three-point efficiency this past season.

Dosunmu could have a leg up on White as a former draft pick of Karnisovas’.

But White, 23, began the season on the trade block only to show enough improvement to potentially earn a shot to vie for the starting point guard spot next season. The Bulls are likely to be without intended starter Lonzo Ball, potentially for good and, according to head coach Billy Donovan, White is far more equipped to fill that role now than he was before.

White averaged 9.7 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 2.8 assists, canning 37.2% of his threes this year.

He also displayed a better feel for running an NBA offense and doing other things to impact the game when his shot was not falling.

“He’s gotten better in every aspect of his game, Karnisovas said. “I think that’s a good example of a player that is developing and taking strides, and from decision-making to defense to three-point shooting. Especially in the second half of the season, he’s been really good for us and has been key in a lot of wins. So he’s gotten really better.”

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