Bulls Put On Notice Over Embattled Star’s Contract

Nikola Vucevic, Chicago Bulls

Getty Nikola Vucevic #9 of the Chicago Bulls moves to the basket.

There might not be a more polarizing figure among Chicago Bulls fans than Nikola Vucevic. Despite being a two-time All-Star, Vucevic’s tenure in Chicago has been marred by inconsistency as his role has changed along the way.

In Orlando with the Magic, Vucevic was the featured attraction.

But he was brought in to be the second option before a surprising 2021 offseason saw the Bulls trade for DeMar DeRozan turning the 6-foot-11 big man into a third option.

Now, the Bulls are faced with a conundrum of their own doing as Vucevic heads into the final year of his contract. There has been a reported shared interest between the two sides in hammering out a contract extension. But, before they do that, the Bears have to weigh before they make a decision on Vuevic either way.

Vucevic’s Value Unclear

After taking a look through the Bulls’ roster, Bleacher Report’s Andy Bailey found it tough to identify a bad value contract on the cap sheet. As Bailey explains it, DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine are both worth their exorbitant contracts.

He also argues that there is a reason to see value in Vucevic still despite the down year.

“Nikola Vucevic stands out as someone who may not live up to his 2022-23 salary (if he posts another below-average true shooting percentage), but he’s on an expiring contract.
If forced to pick one, it’s probably Vuc, but you can certainly defend his deal.”

The Bulls have Vucevic on the books for $22 million this year.

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He was one of six players to average 17 points and 11 rebounds last season. But the points were his fewest since 2018 and the rebounds were his fewest since 2019.

Finding market value for a player who has brought more than statistical production. He was integral in bridging both DeRozan and Goran Dragic to Chicago. Vuevevic’s skill set also allows the Bulls to play the way they prefer on offense.

It’s his defense that has come under the most intense scrutiny.

Vucevic a Scapegoat

It is true that Vucevic is coming off of a down year. But, as mentioned, he shouldn’t be expected to average primary option numbers at this point given how the Bulls are constructed. And fans hoping for a return to form from beyond the arc may be disappointed.

Vucevic attempted threes at his lowest rate since 2020 and has just two seasons shooting the three over 34% since he began averaging more than 1.0 attempts per game.

His 31.4% mark last season is closer to his 35.2% clip in that span than the 40% from 2021.

Interestingly enough, Vucevic posted his best defensive rating since leaving Orlando, per Cleaning the Glass. And a quick glance at the Bulls’ D-LEBRON ratings shows that Vuevic was among the least of the Bulls’ concerns defensively last season. His situation was exasperated by a lack of healthy defenders in front of him which the Bulls’ defense is predicated on.

With a mostly healthy guard rotation in front of him, Vucevic should be placed in fewer adverse situations. But he also must remain locked in even when his shot isn’t falling instead of settling for jump shots.

However, Vucevic attempted and connected on his shot near the basket at a higher clip than the year before.

In the end, it would seem Vucevic was an easy target on a team that struggled down the stretch.

Fair Value for Vucevic

After Vucevic purchased a $4.75 million home in Chicago, many are figuring it is a matter of when and not if the Bulls and Vucevic come to terms on any sort of agreement. But the Bulls would be wise not to lock themselves into anything long-term, even more than the money involved.

Even if Vucevic’s potential next contract proves to be an albatross it would be even worse if the Bulls were tied to Vucevic – who will turn 32 years old in October – long term.

It will come down to keeping Vuceivc’s statistical profile in proper context with his impact.

Vucevic will be worth whatever the Bulls pay him – that’s how economics works. But whether or not it is the right decision to extend him largely depends on the type of commitment they make to the 11-year veteran. A two-year deal worth $22 million total would be a steal but even another year at his current $22 million might be too much.

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