Bulls Could Make Questionable Decision On Polarizing Star

Nikola Vucevic, Chicago Bulls

Getty Nikola Vucevic #9 and Patrick Williams #44 of the Chicago Bulls high five each other.

It was all going so well, that is until it wasn’t. The Chicago Bulls started the regular season with a big win on the road over the Miami Heat, last season’s top seed. Since then, however, they are just 5-8 and are coming off back-to-back blowout losses.

They are searching for answers to problems they have to address again when the season comes to an end.

Among the more pressing questions, what do they do with Nikola Vucevic?

The two-time All-Star is in the final year of his contract and has not had the type of tenure he nor the Bulls’ front office envisioned when they traded for him at the 2020 trade deadline. Now, with little in the way of assets they can use to improve the team, the Bulls could be painted into a corner with the 11-year veteran.

Overpay For Vooch?

“Vučević, as an unrestricted free agent in 2023, could walk for nothing,” writes NBC Sports Chicago‘s Bulls insider K.C. Johnson. “The Bulls may have to extend a higher-than-market-value offer merely to make sure they don’t lose an asset that cost so much.”

The cost to acquire Vucevic was big man Wendell Carter Jr., reserve forward Al-Farouq Aminu, and two first-round draft picks.

One of the picks has already been conveyed and the next figures to do so this year.

Vucevic has been the consummate good teammate and professional, putting the onus of his struggles on himself even when there have been times his teammates failed to feed him in the post.

He has even altered his game from being a dominant post player to mostly a perimeter threat.

Therein lies the issue.

Vucevic has never been much of a defender but he is on track to tie the worst defensive rating of his career at 115.2, per Cleaning The Glass. The Bulls have a minus-6.4 net rating when Vucevic is on the floor and are plus-7.7 when he is on the bench and that is with what most would consider improved play from the veteran.

Lost In Translation

Much was made of Vucevic finding his footing as a third option in Chicago rather than the first as he was in Orlando. To the big man’s credit, he has been amenable to everything the Bulls’ circumstances have thrown at him.

He even openly entertained the idea of playing as more of a stretch-4 alongside offseason free-agent pickup Andre Drummond.

Most importantly, he is scoring on a career-best 57.4% true shooting despite a dip in his scoring.

But his personal gains have not been the Bulls’ as they have a minus-12.3 net rating when Vucevic shares the floor with DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine leading Zach Buckley of Bleacher Report to speculate whether or not the Bulls are a lost cause.

“Could this core look better with a healthy Lonzo Ball? Probably,” Buckley conceded, “but who knows when he’s hitting the hardwood again. Could it jump all the way to championship contention if [Patrick] Williams maxes out his potential? It’s theoretically possible, but he has to essentially become the next Kawhi Leonard—like, this season or next.”

Ball is expected to be out into January following the second surgery on his balky knee in a nine-month span.

Williams has continued to tease his potential with little consistency.

What’s Next?

The Bulls are quickly approaching a crossroads with LaVine locked up through 2027 but Vucevic’s set to his free agency next summer and DeRozan the year after. To that end, they also have to make a decision on Williams in the next couple of seasons.

“The common complaint about this core—externally, at least—has been whether its ceiling stretches high enough to justify the investment,” Buckley writes. “Well, a season-plus into the collective tenure of the DeMar DeRozan-Zach LaVine-Nikola Vučević, it seems like that question has been answered, no?”

It seems the only question that remains is what the Bulls do next.

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