No matter what happens for the rest of the season and in the playoffs, the Chicago Bulls and their front office have some work to do if they hope to contend for an NBA championship any time soon.
There is a decision coming up in regards to Zach LaVine. The Bulls may also elect to entertain offers for Patrick Williams, Coby White and don’t be surprised if Lonzo Ball’s name comes up in trade talks after the rookie season Ayo Dosunmu is having.
Beyond all of those potential moves, the one player it would appear the Bulls have to consider moving is center Nikola Vucevic. From the beginning of the season, there were concerns about Vucevic’s ability to defend pick and roll effectively.
Those fears have been proven valid as Chicago has the eighth-worst pick-and-roll defense in the NBA in the area of scoring frequency (40.9%). Teams are running pick-and-roll against the Bulls on just under 22% of their possessions which is the fourth-highest in the league, per NBA.com.
To compound Vucevic’s struggles on defense, he’s also struggled mightily shooting the ball from three. Vucevic is making just 31.7% of his threes, which is his lowest accuracy rate since 2017-18.
That’s a tough stat for a player billed as a stretch-big. Clearly, there are NBA analysts who also insist Vucevic should be on the trading block this offseason.
NBA Analyst Calls For the Bulls to Move Nikola Vucevic in the Offseason
Brian Geltzeiler of Hoops Critic was a guest on 670 The Score’s Bernstein and Rahimi and he called for the Bulls to move Vucevic. More specifically, he believes if the Bulls swapped Vucevic for the Utah Jazz’s Rudy Gobert, they could represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals.
“The guy that I think they need to turn the page on is Nikola Vucevic,” Geltzeiler said. “I think he’s probably performed a little less than what they thought they were going to get out of him.”
As a member of the Bulls, Vucevic has averaged 19 points, 11.4 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1 steal, 1 block while shooting 47.5% from the field and 34% from three. While solid, those numbers are beneath the pace he set in his last three years with the Orlando Magic when he never averaged fewer than 19.6 points per contest and shot 40% from three in his last two years with the team. Vucevic was never much of a shot blocker or rim protector. The Bulls knew that, but as currently constructed, that deficiency might be the biggest problem.
“They traded for Vucevic before they ever brought DeRozan in, and I think that’s very important to note here,” said Geltzeiler. “Because that spot, with DeRozan and LaVine on the floor, needs to be a defensive-oriented five, a guy that’s going to block and change shots. Vucevic is a very good rebounder. He’s a good offensive player–I don’t know if he’s a great offensive player–he’s a siv defensively. He doesn’t protect the rim well. You need a legit rim protector, a guy that patrols the paint to be able to make up for some of the mistakes of your perimeter guys.”
LaVine and DeRozan aren’t top-notch defenders by any stretch. The absences of Alex Caruso and Lonzo Ball have further exposed them. Add in Vucevic’s lackluster pick-and-roll defense and you have a team struggling to stop opponents. The Bulls have surrendered 120 points or more 13 times since January 1. They are 2-11 in those games.
“When you have that, it’s going to make guys like Lonzo Ball and Patrick Williams even better on the perimeter,” said Geltzeiler. “To me, you could upgrade that spot–and I don’t think you need offense from that spot–I think that you have enough offense on the floor with a healthy Lonzo Ball. Don’t get me wrong, Ayo Dosunmu has been fantastic in Lonzo’s stead. He’s given you everything you’ve ever wanted–and he’s not bad defensively. But I think the personnel move ultimately is to move on from Vucevic to a player who may not be the caliber of him offensively, but you need to find someone who really protects that rim, protects that pain. The Bulls really need that, but I think that Vucevic has been exposed in the second half of the season.”
Vucevic has had some strong performances, but if you watch him nightly, it is difficult not to agree with the concept that he’s been a bit exposed.
Would a Vucevic-Gobert Swap Work?
Geltzeiler’s appearance came a night after the Utah Jazz handed the Bulls a 125-110 loss in Salt Lake City, which is what prompted the veteran journalist to give his ideal replacement for Vucevic.
“Listen, I will tell you right now, I’d be knocking on their [Jazz] door, with all the problems between [Rudy] Gobert and [Donovan] Mitchell, if they’re an early exit in the playoffs,” Geltzeiler said. “I got a feeling you’ll have Danny Ainge listening over there. If you could put Rudy Gobert on this team in place of Vucevic, you got a team that could come out of the East. I really believe that.”
Here is a clip of Geltzeiler’s spot on Bernstein and Rahimi:
Dating back to the beginning of the pandemic, there have been issues between Mitchell and Gobert, the exact sort of defensive stalwart that would seem perfect for the Bulls.
Earlier this year, Gobert was called out by The Salt Lake Tribune’s Eric Walden for what read like a subtweet passive-aggressively aimed Mitchell’s way.
Because of these issues, it seems possible the Jazz could look to go in a different direction and it is more likely the team would move Gobert than Mitchell, a 25-year-old superstar performer capable of carrying a team on his back offensively.
The major question is would the Jazz really deal Gobert for Vucevic? It doesn’t seem like an even move. Financially, it isn’t even at all. Gobert isn’t a free agent until 2026 and he is scheduled to make $38.1 million next season with his annual salary rising each year until he can exercise a player option for $46 million ahead of the 2025-26 season.
The Bulls would need to add at least one other piece just make this deal work financially.
Chicago could send Vucevic, Coby White and Troy Brown Jr. to the Jazz for Gobert and Juancho Hernangomez, but that feels a deal where the Jazz would be getting the short end of the stick.
Perhaps there is another path for the Bulls to acquire Gobert, or maybe, the answer is simply looking for a similar archetype at center. If the Bulls continue to fizzle out down the stretch and perform poorly in the postseason, expect this conversation to get a lot louder.
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