Bulls’ Key Offseason Move Judged Harshly in League Circles

Chicago Bulls

Getty Head coach Billy Donovan of the Chicago Bulls.

The Chicago Bulls made few moves this offseason and had better hope that those they did make are highly impactful.

Their biggest move was, in many ways, resigning center Nikola Vucevic, a former All-Star and the first major trade acquisition of vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas at the helm. Karnisovas surrendered two players and a pair of first-round picks – both of which fell in the lottery – to the Orlando Magic for him at the 2021 trade deadline.

This summer, they re-upped with the big man.

“They gave Nikola Vucevic a three-year, $60 million deal that no one else was going to be giving him,” said Yahoo Sports NBA insider Jake Fischer on the ‘No Cap Room’ podcast on July 20. “That didn’t exactly draw strong praise from people around the NBA.”

Vucevic, 32, averaged 17.6 points, 11.0 rebounds, and 3.2 assists while shooting 52.0% from the floor overall and 34.9% from beyond the arc this past season.

The 12-year veteran also appeared in all 82 games for the first time in his career and was the only center to do so in the entire NBA last season. He was set to hit unrestricted free agency after completing a four-year, $100 million contract and even suggested that he could explore his options on the open market.

Instead, he now is under team control through the 2025-26 season.

That is longer than all but five of his teammates and two of them – rookie forward Julian Phillips and second-year wing Dalen Terry – are on their rookie contracts. Phillips and Zach LaVine are the only players who are under contract for longer.

Zach LaVine Gets Wish on Nikola Vucevic

“Vooch has been great ever since he came here from Orlando,” LaVine said via the Bulls’ YouTube channel on April 15. “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.”

LaVine’s words proved to be more prophetic than not, even if there are those lingering doubts about the overall value of Vucevic’s new contract.

Vucevic is one of four players to post the kind of season he had in 2022-23.

Rk Player PTS TRB AST 3P% FG% Season Age Team G GS MP
1 Nikola Jokić 24.5 11.8 9.8 .383 .632 2022-23 27 DEN 69 69 33.7
2 Domantas Sabonis 19.1 12.3 7.3 .373 .615 2022-23 26 SAC 79 79 34.6
3 Nikola Vučević 17.6 11.0 3.2 .349 .520 2022-23 32 CHI 82 82 33.5
4 Hakeem Olajuwon 27.3 11.9 3.6 .421 .528 1993-94 31 HOU 80 80 41.0
Provided by Stathead.com


Yet his contract ranks 12th among centers in annual value and is in a three-way tie for 83rd overall with teammate Lonzo Ball and Cleveland Cavaliers big man Jarrett Allen, per Spotrac, which would suggest that the Bulls got him at a relative discount.

If no one else was willing to give him even that amount, perhaps the Bulls did overpay. They do not sound like they believe that to be the case, though.

Arturas Karnisovas Defends Nikola Vucevic Trade

“Nikola has proven that he is a special player,” said Karnisovas in a statement released through the team’s website on June 28. “He has produced at an elite level since we acquired him and will remain an integral part of our foundation moving forward…We are excited to have him continue to be part of our journey.”

Vucevic finished third in double-doubles in 2022-23, and the Bulls had a 29-22 record when he recorded one.

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