Bulls Star Makes Deflating Admission Following Latest Loss

Nikola Vucevic, Chicago Bulls

Getty Nikola Vucevic #9 of the Chicago Bulls.

As the saying goes, “it ain’t over until the fat lady sings”. In the Chicago Bulls’ case, the “fat lady” may be Nikola Vucevic.

“It doesn’t really depend on us anymore,” Vučević told Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic. “I mean, it does. We have to win. But we’re depending on the people in front of us, on how they do. So it’s hard to say after 65 games we didn’t figure it out. It’s tough to believe that something’s just going to (click) like that. We’ll see. We’re going to keep fighting, keep hoping something happens. But it’s obvious we’ve put ourselves in a very difficult spot now.”

The Bulls are 3-7 in their last 10 outings and now find themselves, 12th in the Eastern Conference; 1.5 games behind the Washington Wizards for the 10-seed and a spot in the Play-In Tournament.

They also lost the tie-breaker with the Indiana Pacers due to the loss on Sunday.

Vucevic had a chance to win the game on the final play with a three but missed. He finished the loss with 12 points, nine rebounds, five assists, three steals, and two blocks.

“We were trying to get Zach [LaVine] and DeMar [DeRozan] open but they kind of top-blocked them,” Vučević said in a video shared on Twitter by Mayberry. “I got a decent look – it was a bit of a tough shot, turning around. It was straight on. Just came up short a little bit. You can’t put yourself into that position, to rely on a last-second shot like that. We got a good look out of it. But we should have done better throughout the game.”

Vucevic’s thoughts about the season are an admission of what has been apparent.

Executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas banked on the eventual return of starting point guard Lonzo Ball to be the magic elixir for a trio of offense-first stars who lack defensive chops or the ability to function as the hubs their respective salaries would suggest they need to be.

Ball was finally officially shut down for the season on February 21 – over one year since he last took the floor.

The Bulls tried to bide their time with 36-year-old Goran Dragic mixed in with incumbent options Alex Caruso, Ayo Dosunmu, and Coby White. Caruso and Dosunmu have taken turns starting while White’s time as a point guard came and went before this season. Dragic is now in Milwaukee with the Bucks after being released following the signing of Patrick Beverley with whom Vucevic has bumped heads amid this frustrating season.

Vucevic is set to be an unrestricted free agent and says he will keep his options open.

DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine Disagree That Season is Lost

“We still have the opportunity to make the most out of it,” DeRozan said, per Sam Smith of NBA.com. “We’ve just got to dig deep. We all have got to find something within ourselves to make something happen; the opportunity is still there. As long as you’ve got time, you’ve got a chance. That’s where we’re at.”

DeRozan finished with 23 points, five rebounds, and three assists. He did admit it was “beyond frustrating” to lose the “must-win” game, particularly lamenting the fashion in which they lost.

The Bulls rank third in defensive rebound percentage on the season, per NBA.com. But they rank 28th in the same metric over the last five games.

Still, LaVine is also keeping his hopes moderately high given the circumstances.

“You’re not going to go out there and say the season is over with,” said LaVine who dropped 42 points and hit 5-of-8 threes in the loss. “I don’t know how you (media) guys think, but we don’t think that way.”

He added that the Bulls cannot “put our heads down” or “cry” about their situation according to Julia Poe of the Chicago Tribune and instead called for mental fortitude in the face of extreme adversity; adversity that Vucevic doesn’t necessarily believe they will be able to overcome at this point in a trying season with just 17 games to go.

“Maybe 30 games ago,” Vučević said, “but now it’s hard to look at it that way.”

Bulls, Pacers Prospects On Opposite Ends of the Spectrum

Haliburton gaming the Bulls should sting the Bulls in particular. Many teams passed on him – he went 12th overall in the 2020 NBA Draft– but the Bulls’ current plight and trajectory might look a lot better had they selected him with the fourth-overall pick instead of Patrick Williams.

Williams had 14 points on over 83% shooting against Indiana but has also fluctuated between starter and bench player this season.

He is coming along at his own pace but Haliburton has already earned All-Star recognition.

Lost in the prospect shuffle is second-year Bulls big man Marko Simonovic who was taken in the second round of that same draft class but has been relegated to the G League only able to amass 40 total minutes of action in nine NBA games across two seasons – he did not come over to the US until 2021.

Vucevic and Simonovic are countrymen and trained together this past offseason. It was hoped that would translate to this season but that has not materialized.

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