Controversial Bulls Trade Among NBA’s Worst, Says Analyst

Nikola Vucevic, Chicago Bulls

Getty Wendell Carter Jr. #34 of the Orlando Magic drives to the basket against Nikola Vucevic #9 of the Chicago Bulls.

This summer has seen many opinions shift on the Chicago Bulls but one seems consistent — that trading for Nikola Vucevic was a mistake. For many on the optimistic side, their injury-marred 2022 season was just the tip of the iceberg and, if they could just get healthy, they’ll be right back in the mix among the top teams in the East.

Others view them as a first-round out at best before factoring in Lonzo Ball‘s lingering knee injury, DeMar DeRozan‘s advancing age, and the remaining flaws in Zach LaVine‘s game.

And some question what direction this team is going to go.

But the noise surrounding one of their earlier decisions has grown increasingly negative in recent days. It’s a deal that set the stage for the Bulls to be playoff hopefuls after five years in sports purgatory. But it’s also one that severely limited how efficiently they can go about raising their ceiling.

Vucevic a Polarizing Figure

The Bulls traded Wendell Carter Jr. and a bevy of draft picks to the Orlando Magic for Vucevic. ESPN’s Tim Bontemps recently ripped that deal as a disaster for the Bulls since Carter is “already a better player” than Vucevic, Orlando got Franz Wagner out of the deal, and the Bulls still owe them a first-round pick in the 2023 NBA Draft.

Bontemps is not alone in that feeling as both Tim McMahon and Brian Windhorst agreed that it isn’t looking like a smart move during “The Hoop Collective” podcast on September 8.

Now, Greg Swartz of Bleacher Report lists it among the “most regrettable” moves since 2020.

“Desperate to make the jump to playoff contender and wanting to surround Zach LaVine with win-now talent…the Bulls went all-in to get Vucevic from the Magic at the 2021 trade deadline. The veteran center was stuffing the stat sheet for the lowly Magic at the time of the trade…and brought a much-needed offensive sidekick to play alongside LaVine.”

The Bulls went 11-15 with Vucevic in 2021 – including a 115-106 loss to the Magic – leading to their first pick owed to Orlando turning into the eighth-overall selection and Wagner.

Despite the Bulls’ potential when healthy, Swartz warns of a similar fate befalling them.

“The Bulls still owe their 2023 first-rounder to the Magic, one that will almost certainly transfer with only a top-four protection. With Chicago not looking like a true title contender, that pick could fall in the middle of the first round, giving Orlando a ton of value overall.”

Swartz concludes that the trade, which seemed “iffy” at the time seems “even worse” now as Vucevic enters the final year of his contract amid reports of mutual interest in a contract extension between him and the Bulls.

“While the Magic have Carter, Wagner, and a 2023 first coming from Chicago,” says Swartz, “the Bulls have an offensive-minded center when they need a rim protector instead.”

Bulls Have Compounded Issues

For their part, the Bulls only compounded only the issue with the way that they have constructed this roster. But it is debatable whether or not Carter would have reached his potential in Chicago as he appears to have with the Magic en route to earning a four-year, $50 million contract extension.

And it is largely due to what we have seen from Vucevic in Chicago compared to Orlando.

Carter thrived being a featured piece last season amid a slew of injuries for the Magic. But he would have been the third option at best with the Bulls.

Trading for Ball and DeRozan has further hindered their ability to upgrade this roster if they wanted to. But the Bulls have openly opted for continuity which adds another layer of pressure on Vucevic to be the best version of himself this coming season.

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Michael Cunnningham
Michael Cunnningham
1 year ago

I wouldn’t call the Vucevic trade to Chicago a bad deal for the Bulls. Teams building through the draft can take 5 yrs or more without sniffing the playoffs, and the Bulls were stuck in rebuilding mode with WCJ.
Let’s revisit this trade when Orlando wins enough games to make it to the playoffs.