“We’re happy that at least we’re going to be in,” Vucevic said, per NBC Sports Chicago Bulls insider K.C. Johnson after the Bulls clinched a spot in the Play-In Tournament thanks to a loss by the Orlando Magic. “Obviously, it hasn’t been the season so far we wanted. We hoped to be higher in the standings. But this gives us an opportunity to get into the playoffs.”
There is nothing wrong with Vucevic trying to be positive.
The Bulls flirted with an 11th-place finish and even possibly missing the Play-In Tournament at times this season and even went into the All-Star break on a five-game losing streak.
They have now gone 12-8 since returning and had a chance to control their destiny in obtaining the eight-seed in the East. Instead, they fell two games behind the Hawks and Toronto Raptors with just three games to go leaving some fans less than thrilled with what came off as acceptance of mediocrity.
“We aren’t happy about that, we should be a top 6 team with the talent around us it switched this year we can beat good teams but can’t beat mediocre/ bad teams,” tweeted @elijahwatson322 in response to Vucevic’s comments.
He was not alone in his frustration either.
“WHAT,” wrote @HEsBeen_Good2me. “Cmon man! Happy to be in the play-in?!? Bulls not gonna win title, then at least be the 6 seed. Missed out on the 6 seed and in the play-in at least try and get 7/8 seed so you only need to win one game. And you blew the chance of that tonight. Hate that loser mentality.”
Be it a “loser mentality” or simply accepting the reality based on the information provided (i.e. the performance of this team over the bulk of the season), this isn’t the first time Vucevic has been soberingly honest about his team’s prospects.
“It’s tough to believe that something’s just going to (click) like that,” Vučević told Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic after a deflating loss to the Indiana Pacers at home on March 5.
Fans Come For Nikola Vucevic
Vucevic finished the game with 19 points, 10 rebounds, and three assists.
The performance marks his 49th double-double of the season, third-most in the NBA. But it was not enough to lead the Bulls to victory nor did it do anything to quell the ire of fans who also came for the former two-time All-Star big man.
“I know Vucevic is a 17/11 double-double guy,” @HEsBeen_Good2me added before continuing, “but I was at the game tonight and he was getting worked in the paint. He is a defensive liability. They shoot right over him. And he doesn’t jump nor get his hands up to defend the rim. It was too easy for the Hawks.”
According to NBA.com matchup data (which can be a bit tricky), Hawks players were 14-for-20 when guarded by the veteran big man.
Nikola Vucevic’s Future Could Hang in Balance
For what it’s worth, Vucevic took nine of his 15 field goal attempts in the first half and got just one look off in the fourth quarter as a troubling trend continued where his teammates simply stopped getting him the ball.
There were talks of mutual interest in an extension but nothing ever came to fruition.
What kind of impact will the end of this season have on the pending unrestricted free agent who has left the door open for his exit including the possibility of a return to Orlando?