Bulls Exec Sends Strong Message on Two-Time All-Star’s Future

Nikola Vucevic, Chicago Bulls

Getty Nikola Vucevic #9 of the Chicago Bulls dribbles

The Chicago Bulls sound as though they are planning on having center, Nikola Vucevic, in the fold next season, per general manager Marc Eversley. This comes amid various rumors regarding the big man’s future.

NBA correspondent Marc Stein reported during a June 20 Spotify Live session that the Bulls were “at the front of the line” for Utah Jazz center, Rudy Gobert, in a trade.

But NBC Sports Chicago’s K.C. Johnson, who has been staunch in saying he expected Vucevic to be in a Bulls uniform next season, reported that those rumors were “overstated”

While we got some clarity on Vucevic, the ambiguity around the Gobert rumors allows some uncertainty to remain in the long term. For the Bulls heading into next season, though, Eversley says they want to “complement” what Vucevic brings to the table.

Rim Protection Still a Priority

Vuvevic was one of six players to average at least 17.0 points and 11.0 rebounds during the regular season, per NBA.com. He averaged more blocks than three of the others on the list including reigning MVP, Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets who was drafted by a front office that included Bulls vice president of basketball operations, Arturas Karnisovas.

Eversley said the Bulls’ focus is finding a piece (or pieces) that allow Vucevic to be his best version; a player that is also capable of knocking down threes above a 38% clip.

“Certainly something that we’ve discussed as a staff. Getting somebody to compliment what Vooch does, particularly, rim protection. Just kind of patrolling that paint and making sure that…you have somebody there to lock it down. It’s something that we…intend on addressing. Whether that’s via free agency or trade, it’s something that we’re pretty focused on.”

The driving force behind the Gobert-to-Chicago rumors was the Bulls’ lack of rim protection with Vucevic. Opponents shot 63.2% against him on shots within five feet while seeing 20.3 such shots per game, the seventh-most among NBA centers.

Johnson has tried to push back on the narrative on Vucevic’s defense citing his performance when the team is healthy.

But only two players saw at least 20 attempts against them at the rim per game and allowed a higher percentage.

One was Anthony Davis of the Los Angeles Lakers who is a good defender. But he only played 40 games last season. The other was Karl-Anthony Towns who has never been known as a good defender.

Addressing Gobert Rumors

Eversley was naturally asked about the rumors regarding Gobert with the Bulls being considered among the frontrunners for his services. Johnson asked specifically about the validity of those rumors and how serious those talks may have gotten.

The savvy executive avoided any potential tampering with his answer.

“Simply put, this is the time of year when everything starts to turn. The draft, free agency, we’re going to get into heavy dialogues with trade. I don’t want to comment on another team’s player. I will tell you we have taken calls on several different players in several different iterations around the league. We will continue to do so. But I don’t want to comment specifically on that particular player.”

Not a strong take in either direction as there was a report from Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer on June 14 that they were still shopping Vucevic.

Gobert, a three-time Defensive Player of the Year and four-time All-NBA selection, is set to make over $38 million next season, per Spotrac. He still has $85 million guaranteed owed to him over the next two years with a player option for the 2025-26 season for nearly $47 million.

Vucevic heads into the final year of his deal at $22 million. He has expressed an interest in signing an extension with the Bulls, per ESPN’s Jonathan Givony.

There was no mention of that by Eversley in his media availability.

It did not need to be said when he said their priority was to “complement” the embattled center who poked fun at all of the reports of his status on Twitter.

He also pushed back on Twitter at a fan suggesting his being traded away was imminent. Eversley’s words would seem to affirm the 11-year veteran’s stance.

What’s Next for the Bulls

The New York Post’s Marc Berman reported that the Bulls “could be” the New York Knicks’ “biggest threat” to steal away center Mitchell Robinson in free agency. They will have to go a different route as the 7-footer is expected to sign a multi-year deal with the Knicks, per Sports Illustrated’s Jeremy Woo.

Beyond Gobert, other names linked to the Bulls when free agency opens on July 1 – with the legal tampering beginning on June 30 – have been Mo Bamba of the Orlando Magic and Chris Boucher of the Toronto Raptors.

Chicago had also been linked to Atlanta Hawks power forward John Collins before reports surfaced that the Sacramento Kings had become frontrunners for his services.

Those talks have cooled. But the Bulls’ apparent stance on Vucevic all but eliminates another high-priced addition this offseason. Eversley noted that he did not think that there was “one player or one giant leap” that was going to put them over the top.

He did note that they will continue to work “every single day” to put the best roster possible out on the floor.

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