Bulls Missed Opportunity With Embattled Big Man

Nikola Vucevic, Chicago Bulls

Getty Nikola Vucevic #9 of the Chicago Bulls looks on during a stoppage in play.

Who are the Chicago Bulls? Are they the team that beat last year’s top seed in the East (Miami Heat) and the conference champion (Boston Celtics) or the one that dropped games to the Washington Wizards and the San Antonio Spurs?

There is also the matter of their blowout loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers and a close one to the Philadelphia 76ers to wrestle with as trade winds swirl long before actual conversations begin.

One name that could be less likely than many assume to be moved is Nikola Vucevic.

The Bulls’ embattled big man is coming off of a down season by his own admission but both he and the front office are interested in an extension. There could be some trepidation on either side to meet the other’s demands leaving the question of trading Vucevic now or running the risk of losing him for nothing next summer.

No Trade for Vooch

By the time the season began, it had long been made clear that Vucevic was going to be a big part of the Bulls’ plans. That much has borne out as three of the Bulls’ four losses have come in games in which Vucevic posted his three worst plus-minuses of the young season.

While it is good to see the Bulls re-dedicated to getting Vucevic sooner, they might have painted themselves into a corner as some believe they will slide into the Play-In Tournament or worse.

If they do, moving Vucevic could prove to be an even more complex endeavor than usual.

“Last summer was the time to do it if you were going to trade him,” an Eastern Conference Executive tells Heavy Sports’ NBA insider, Sean Deveney. “Now, you could move him but no one is really going to want him. He is not shooting it well and we know he is not a great defensive presence in the middle, so who is out there trying to bring him in at this point?”

Indeed, despite that talk of a resurgence for the 11-year veteran, Vucevic’s stat line is worse than last season virtually across the board including his efficiency.

But the areas he has improved in are undeniably impactful. Vucevic is shooting over 96% on 2.3 more free-throw attempts and was grabbing 1.8 more offensive rebounds than he did last season before Saturday’s loss to the 76ers.

That underlying inconsistency and the real possibility that Vucevic could regress at any moment could cause the Bulls problems if they find themselves as sellers at the trade deadline.

He had just nine points and five boards in a loss to the San Antonio Spurs but did notch 23 points and 19 boards against the 76ers.

“If the Bulls were willing to take on a bad contract, they could probably move him but they’re not looking to do that. He is going to be a free agent and he will have to take a lot less money next year, so if you are going to trade for him, you could just sign him next summer.”

For a team that is wary of approaching the luxury tax, that seems unlikely.

Playing Into Bulls’ Hands

The Bulls could still choose to move off of Vucevic and possibly still get starter-quality play from backup Andre Drummond whose contract has a player option for next season. Drummond’s efficiency differential was plus-21.7; Vucevic’s is minus-20.2, per Cleaning The Glass.

That was before the loss to Philly which Drummond missed with a shoulder injury.

But the front office likes Vucevic who helped recruit DeMar DeRozan and Goran Dragic – two key pieces for this team.

Vucevic’s potential statistical regression could be a good thing for the Bulls. His numbers could take another dip this season. But if the team is more effective and is making better use of his skill set, an extension (which for veterans can be completed up until the final day of the regular season) would not only be likely, it could be the logical and responsible move to make.

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