Nikola Vucevic Offers Advice to Rival Knicks, Former Bulls HC

Nikola Vucevic, Chicago Bulls

Getty Nikola Vucevic #9 of the Chicago Bulls.

If there’s one thing Chicago Bulls center Nikola Vucevic is, it’s loyal.

One has to look no further than the way he stuck up for former Orlando Magic teammate Evan Fournier – who is now with the New York Knicks and glued to their bench – for an example.

Fournier’s Knicks find themselves in a 2-1 deficit in their second-round playoff series against the Miami Heat who beat the Bulls en route to reaching these Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. In their series, the Knicks are shooting just 27.2% on three-pointers prompting Vucevic to send a suggestion to his former teammate’s current team.

The Knicks, helmed by former Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, have been slow to adjust causing some questions about his longevity for New York. He has also caught some grief from fans for keeping former Bulls great Derrick Rose in a similar position to Fournier.

Fournier, 30, made just 27 appearances during the regular season, the fewest of his career.

An 11-year-veteran, he began the season as a starter for the Knicks’ first seven games but was sent to the bench, a role he admitted he had difficulty adjusting to.

“The thing is when you only shoot three times a game … it adds up. It adds up. And at the end of the season, you look at your [shooting] percentage and it’s not good,” Fournier said, per Peter Botte of the New York Post on November 14. “But it’s just hard to find a rhythm right now. I think not knowing the rotation, what’s coming your way, etcetera, etcetera. I have to do a better job of all that and just being in the moment, being ready for whatever.”

Fournier made it clear that he would not make a fuss about his diminished role saying it was about the team and not him adding that it was on him to figure out how he could best help the team going forward no matter what his role was. He would go on to be a DNP-CD for the next 22 consecutive games.

He would go on to make just 14 out of 47 possible appearances the rest of the regular season and has not seen the floor in the postseason.

Nikola Vucevic the Recruiter

Of the many replies to Vucevic’s, one suggested that this was “W recruiting” by the big man who has been known to put feelers out. He was one of the reasons (along with $81.9 million) that his former college teammate DeMar DeRozan signed in the summer of 2021.

He was also integral in bringing Goran Dragic to Chicago last summer, though that resulted in the veteran point guard calling out the Bulls’ roster and getting cut.

Dragic ultimately landed with the rival Milwaukee Bucks but Vucevic did his job in that sense.

Fournier is heading into the final guaranteed year of a four-year, $73 million contract next season. He will count four $18.8 million against the salary cap and has a $19 million player option for the following season.

He averaged just 6.1 points, 1.8 rebounds, and 1.3 assists this season while shooting 33.7% from the floor overall, 30.7% from beyond the arc, and 85.7% at the free-throw line but he posted 14.1/2.6/2.1 line on .417/.389/.708 efficiency while starting 80 games in 2021-22. Fournier averaged 4.2 threes in his limited role this season – more than all but three Bulls – and averaged 7.7 deep looks last season.

Could Fournier be a worthwhile pursuit for a Bulls team that ranked at the bottom of the league in three-pointers taken and made while ranking middle-of-the-pack in terms of efficiency? Sure, especially with Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas noting he wants to change the team’s shooting profile.

However, getting him to Chicago could prove tricky.

Fournier a Fit on the Floor More Than Financially

Assuming Vucevic would be off the table in a scenario where he recruits Fournier to Chicago, the Bulls’ only contract that could match one-for-one would be that of injured point guard Lonzo Ball who has not played since January of 2022 and is expected to miss most if not all of next season, essentially tanking his trade value.

Beyond that, the Bulls would have to get creative which Karnisovas has acknowledged he is willing to do.

Bulls guard Alex Caruso has been linked to the Knicks as a Thibodeau-type of player but would require additional salary to bring back Fournier with Patrick Williams’ the only other contract that fits without having to add even further compensation and that is too much for the veteran Knick.

Chicago could send DeRozan to New York who was ahead of the Bulls on the six-time All-Star’s list in free agency in 2021 and who had an interest in him as well before opting for Fournier.

That would also require additional salary, this time from the Knicks. The Bulls might love to add the likes of Mitchell Robinson in a deal but, not only would that cloud things for Vucevic, it could be a non-starter for the Knicks as they have grown fond of the 7-foot rebounding, shot-blocking machine.

Could they pry Isaiah Hartenstein loose instead of Robinson? Maybe.

But DeRozan has also sounded like he plans to be a Bull next season which further clouds what the Bulls can do to get better this offseason.

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