The Chicago Bulls (45-36) will have some work to do this offseason. Barring a magical run, their chances of reaching the NBA Finals stand at less than 1.0%, per FiveThirtyEight.
This does not mean their season was a failure despite their having the top seed in the Eastern Conference for about two months early in the season. They have been one of the league’s worst teams lately, going 6-13 in March and April and ranking 28th in net rating over the past 15 games.
Their late-season collapse does mean that — on top of finding a way to extend Zach LaVine’s contract — they will have to find a way to improve their roster with limited cap space.
Chicago fans seem hopeful about the Bulls’ chances to sign Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic, who will become an unrestricted free agent in July 2023. However, one prominent NBA insider doesn’t see it happening.
Shams Says No
Shams Charania, senior NBA insider for The Athletic, was pretty quick to put the notion to bed when he appeared April 6 on NBC Sports Chicago’s “Unfiltered with David Kaplan.”
“Well, I don’t see any scenario where Nicola Jokic looks elsewhere,” Charania said. “I mean, he’s eligible this summer, Kap, for a five-year, $260 million supermax contract. Safe bet the Nuggets will probably put that on the table for him. Like you said, he’s a favorite this year to be back-to-back MVP. So that offer most likely will be there for him. And so there’s a lot of expectation around the league that Nicola Jokic is happy in Denver, wants to be in Denver long term.”
Jokic, the 2020-21 league MVP, is averaging 27.1 points on a career-best 66.1 true shooting percentage with 13.8 boards and 7.9 assists. He has almost singlehandedly kept the Nuggets afloat in the Western Conference playoff race while they deal with the extended absences of the injured Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr.
Jokic, 27, also became the first player in NBA history to record 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 500 assists in a single season, according to Stathead.
His on-court performance isn’t the only reason the Bulls and Jokic could be a fit together.
The Feeling Is Mutual
Arturas Karnisovas, the Bulls’ executive vice president of basketball operations, and Jokic have ties that date back to Karnisovas’ tenure in Denver. As a member of the front office that drafted Jokic in the second round of the 2014 NBA draft, he helped Jokic develop into the force that he is today, according to a 2021 story by NBC Sports Chicago’s K.C. Johnson.
“In Karnisovas’ first draft while working for the Nuggets, Denver actually engaged with the Bulls in a draft-day trade that netted them the rights to Gary Harris and Jusuf Nurkic in exchange for the rights to Doug McDermott,” Johnson wrote. “Jokic arrived the same year from the second round.”
Karnisovas established many strong bonds during his time in Denver, and Jokic was one of them, Johnson wrote.
Jokic, a Serbian native, shared similarly kind words about Karnisovas, a former star of the Lithuanian national basketball team and several European leagues.
“I just have a long relationship with him. He’s from Europe so (we) have a similar mindset. He’s a great guy to have,” Jokić said in Johnson’s story. “This is a new challenge for him. I’m looking forward to see what he’s going to do. They have an All-Star this year [Zach LaVine] so that’s a good thing. I wish him all the best.”
Karnisovas and general manager Marc Eversley were hired in part because of their people skills. Their ability to form long-lasting relationships was a key in landing DeMar DeRozan.
But the relationship between Jokic and Karnisovas probably won’t be enough to pry Jokic from Denver.
Jokic, who will head into next season in the final year of his contract, is eligible this offseason season for a supermax extension worth up to $260 million.
As Charania told Kaplan, it’s a “safe bet” that the Nuggets will offer the extension to their star center, which would dash the hopes of Bulls fans who’d hope the team would be able to swap out their embattled center, Nikola Vucevic, for the Jokic.
Vucevic, 31, has struggled this season adjusting to being the team’s third scoring option, especially after Lonzo Ball went down.