Bulls’ Nikola Vucevic Takes Playful Shot at Zach LaVine

Nikola Vucevic, Chicago Bulls

Getty Nikola Vucevic #9 of the Chicago Bulls.

One of the constant themes of a tumultuous season for the Chicago Bulls, it’s that the locker room never “turned” on each other the way some other groups might. To a man, they remained supportive of one another even as reports of dysfunction emerged.

Nearly two weeks after the season and it seems clear that was not an act.

Star guard Zach LaVine was in Chicago on April 25 throwing out the ceremonial first pitch for the Cubs game against the San Diego Padres drawing a cheeky message from Nikola Vucevic.

This season was especially rough for LaVine and Vucevic in terms of the criticism they both received – LaVine for his quiet showing in the Play-In Tournament and Vucevic for his defensive shortcomings.

Vucevic has been open about his defense not being a strength.

“Obviously the defensive part’s been a knock against me for some time, and I know I have certain things that I don’t do as well defensively,” Vucevic admitted during his exit interview on April 15 via the Bulls’ YouTube channel. “There’s things that I do really well defensively. And so I try to just do my best I can every time I’m out there and focus on things that I do well, use my IQ to help me on that end.”

The Bulls notably finished the regular season with the 5th-ranked defense; it was surprisingly their offense that struggled sputtering to a 24th-place finish.

Vucevic, 32, is set to be an unrestricted free agent this offseason. Both he and Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas have spoken positively about getting another deal done to keep the two-time All-Star in Chicago but Vucevic has openly acknowledged that he will explore his options.

LaVine made it clear how he feels about potentially losing Vucevic this summer.

“Vooch has been great ever since he came here from Orlando,” LaVine said during his end-of-season media availability on the team’s YouTube channel. “He’s one of the most skilled big dudes. He doesn’t get enough credit for what he does for the team. He’s one of the best centers in the league so, me personally, I’m gonna be trying to swindle him and try to keep them here as much as I can as well…We all love Vooch here and appreciate him.”

It seems that Vucevic’s talents aren’t being overlooked outside of the Bulls, either, though some still think he is being miscast.

Nikola Vucevic Urged to Take a Step Back

“The Chicago Bulls were significantly worse with Nikola Vučević on the floor this season, but he’s still a solid shooter and passer for his position who may be more effective in a lesser role for a better team,” argued Andy Bailey of Bleacher Report. “Surrounded by more shooting (Chicago was 30th in threes per 100 possessions and 16th in three-point percentage), Vučević could be an intriguing distributor from the high or low post.”

Bailey ranks Vucevic as the 15th-best free agent on the upcoming market.

Vucevic put up historic numbers as one of just three players in NBA history to record averages of at least 17.0 points, 11.0 rebounds, and 3.0 assists on at least 50% shooting from the floor, 30% from beyond the arc, and 80% from the free throw line.

The other two are Denver Nuggets center and two-time MVP Nikola Jokic and the other is Minnesota Timberwolves star Kar-Anthony Towns.

Nikola Vucevic Considered a “Low” Flight Risk

Though it did not lead to much team success, there is little reason to believe he will leave.

“He would have to play for a win-now team outfitted with the perimeter stoppers needed to hide his shortcomings on the defensive end,” explains Zach Buckley of Bleacher Report. “Chances of him finding said suitor seem remote. There aren’t many teams with cap space this offseason and even fewer that have both money to spend and a chance to compete next season.”

Buckley deems the likelihood that Vucevic starts next season on another roster “low”.

Add that to Chicago’s financial and asset constraints and it seems more likely than not that we see Vucevic in a Bulls uniform at least to start next season.