Are the Chicago Bulls Ready to Re-Sign Nikola Vucevic?

Social Navigation

Are the Chicago Bulls Really Ready to Re-Sign Nikola Vucevic?

Chicago Bulls

Ready or not, the time is now to make a decision on Nikola Vucevic.

The Chicago Bulls acquired the big man two trade deadlines ago in exchange for Wendell Carter Jr., two top-4 protected first-round picks, and salary filler. From the moment that made it through the league office, it’s been criticized at an increasing rate.

The primary reason for that was Vucevic’s lackluster play during the 2021-22 season. Not only did the big man struggle to hit the 3-ball at his same effective pace, but he also looked out of his element next to the team’s other All-Star talents. While the Bulls did go on to make their first playoff appearance since the 2016-17 season, it was over in a swift, non-competitive five games.

Jump forward to the second full year of the Vucevic experiment and things have been a lot better … er … at least on an individual level. Vucevic has averaged 17.8 points, 11.2 rebounds, and 3.4 assists on a career-high 52.4 percent clip from the field. Add in his roughly 36.0 percent 3-ball, and the old dynamic Vooch has undoubtedly made his presence felt on the offensive end.

The problem, however, is the Bulls sit one game under .500 more than halfway through the season with no clear direction. They no longer look like one of the East’s most surprising teams but rather one of the most predictable and broken. Change is clearly needed, and Vucevic makes arguably the most sense to be part of that change.

The big man will hit unrestricted free agency this summer. In other words, if the Bulls don’t want to risk losing a career year in the efficiency department for nothing, they either must trade him at this deadline or re-sign him in the offseason. All indications are right now that they plan to do the latter, and NBC Sports Chicago’s K.C. Johnson wrote as much in his most recent column:

Also, the Bulls remain confident in their ability to re-sign Vucevic, who is having a strong season in his contract year. Trading away Wendell Carter Jr. and two first-round picks to lose Vucevic for nothing would be harmful, and management appears intent on not letting that happen.

Ok. Here’s the thing. Re-signing Vucevic because you don’t want to lose his talent for nothing makes sense. Re-signing Vucevic because you traded away Wendell Carter Jr. and two first-round picks for him, on the other hand, shouldn’t matter.

The trade is a sunk cost. It’s done. It’s over. It’s in the past. What the Bulls need to do now is decide simply whether or not re-signing Vucevic is the *right* thing to do for the future of the franchise. To be clear, a lot of that will depend on what the actual contract might look like.

If Vucevic signs a two-year deal at a relatively team-friendly cost, keeping him may very well be the smart thing to do (it allows you to add more pieces and maybe even have an easier time trading him down the road). If Vucevic wants a three-to-four-year deal at roughly the same price he’s making now, then that could be a very dumb thing to do. And he might very well want something like that after the year he has put together. Not to mention, he’s 32 years old and could view this as his last real substantial contract.

So what exactly does it mean when we read the Bulls are “confident” they can re-sign him? I’m sure they could with a big offer, but should they give him that offer is the real question? The team-wide success suggests no, as does the track record of aging centers. Even if they are sure he’ll take that more team-friendly contract, there will remain major questions about the roster as a whole and this offensive-minded trio.

Also, if this team is so confident that Vucevic can be inked to a deal they like, why hasn’t that deal been signed yet? Let’s remember that Vucevic has been able to sign an extension at any point. But, at least publicly, there’s been no movement. In fact, the only reports we’ve seen reveal that Chicago hasn’t tried in earnest to come to terms on a new deal. If they were so “confident” that Vucevic was still a part of the picture, why wasn’t there a greater emphasis on getting a cost-effective contract signed before Vucevic played his way into more money? I can conceive of reasons why not, sure. But those explanations wouldn’t be kind to the Bulls. At best, they underestimated him and will have to pay for it. At worst, they whiffed completely.

I don’t know, guys. I’ve always liked Vucevic, and I don’t think it’ll be the end of the world if he sticks around. But I continue to fear that their reasons for keeping him around will be built on stubbornness and/or lack of a real direction. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how this all plays out.

(Michael: The only thing I’ll add to all of the above is the TINY possibility that the Bulls are at least opening to trading Vucevic, but want the market to think they’re “Totally willing to hang onto him through the deadline and extend him this offseason.” In other words, maybe this is all about trade leverage. That would be smart. Unfortunately, it seems far more likely that #continuity will be the continued name of the game in Chicago. But I like that word Eli used. Stubbornness. Seems to fit a little better.)

Author: Elias Schuster

Elias Schuster is the Lead Bulls Writer at Bleacher Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @Schuster_Elias.