Nikola Vucevic Sounds Ready to Evaluate the Free-Agent Market This Summer

The Chicago Bulls have a big decision to make … literally.

Big man Nikola Vucevic is headed toward unrestricted free agency in just a few short months. The 32-year-old center will be on the cusp of his 13th NBA season, and it will come after putting together a solid bounce-back campaign in his second full season as a member of the Bulls.

When Vucevic arrived in Chicago during the 2019-20 trade deadline, he was a sign of hope. The acquisition of the two-time All-Star acted as the first sign of truly aggressive team-building by this new front office. Why? Well, the cost to add Vucevic was lofty. The Bulls gave up a solid young big in Wendell Carter Jr. and two top-4 protected first-round picks (in addition to salary filler). And, if that price tag felt high then, it only feels that much higher two deadlines later.

Unfortunately, the Bulls may wind up with only one swift five-game exit to show for in their two-and-half years of Vucevic. They currently sit 11th in the Eastern Conference with a record of 26-31. Even if they were able to climb back into the Play-In Tournament picture, it would be an uphill battle to secure another first-round series – let alone improve on their disappointing postseason performance last year. With that being the case, they’re currently positioned to give Orlando yet another lottery pick. The first one turned into a highly-regarded youngster Franz Wagner.

Now, what’s arguably more troubling, is that they may not even have Vucevic to hang their hat on after this summer. The big man could very well choose to walk in free agency and leave the Bulls with nothing. While the Bulls should have an upper hand in re-signing him, he also suggested to HoopsHype’s Michael Scotto that he’s prepared to weigh his options:

It’s nice to hear that,” Vucevic said when asked about Karnisovas’ belief that they can reach a new deal. “It’s nice to hear that the front office has confidence in you and believes in you. We’ll see what happens when the time comes to discuss a new contract. I feel good here. I’m in a good place. If they want to continue, we can come to an agreement. I’d consider it for sure, but also, being a free agent, I’ll have opportunities to look at other stuff.

All indications are that Vucevic does have a good relationship with this front office. He’s also never necessarily given us a reason to believe that he does prefer to play elsewhere. Having said that, everyone has their price.

Not only are we talking about the actual paycheck Vucevic is hoping to receive, but we also need to consider some of the intangible boxes he’s hoping to check. He mentioned that his family is on the verge of welcoming a third child, and where they choose to raise that child matters. Of course, he also noted his competitive aspirations, commenting that playing for a team with a consistently high ceiling at this stage in his career will be a factor.

The situation and direction of the team,” Vucevic told HoopsHype. “How good can we be? Everybody says they want to play for a championship. It’s hard. Usually, there are really one or two teams that have a chance at it, and then there are other teams that are right there. There’s a lot that goes into it, but being on a team that’s trying to win and fight for something is going to be most important for me.

Will he see this path with the Bulls, especially if they choose to make other drastic roster changes that could include the departure of a co-star?

I understand that some might be thinking “who cares?” But the Bulls basically made re-signing Vucevic a must with last week’s deadline inactivity. Even if we believe that what they gave up for him is a sunk cost and shouldn’t factor into the team’s decision to re-sign him, we can all agree that it’s still not ideal to lose a guy like him for nothing. He’s still an immensely talented player who is undoubtedly an above-average performer at his position. Unless you can find a perfect sign-and-trade, reaching a new deal feels paramount.

The good news for the Bulls is that there aren’t really any cap space teams who can provide Vucevic with everything he wants. The only organizations that could make some sense are possibly the Thunder and Magic, who have both shown enough this season to suggest that a playoff pursuit could be in the cards next year. Would they want to add Vucevic as a veteran leader, though? Particularly as they try to develop two frontcourt youngsters in Chet Holmgren and Paolo Banchero?

Still, as we said, the Bulls might not be in a very intriguing position later this summer. For all we know, this front office very well could look to shuffle the pieces and/or press the reset button to restock assets. Not to mention, the Bulls could have extended Vucevic this entire time. Their lack of willingness to discuss new deals in earnest up until this point could be something he’s keeping in the back of his head (I probably would). All of this could play a role in Vucevic truly considering other options, which he sounds at least somewhat ready to do.

written by

Elias Schuster is the Lead Chicago Bulls writer at Bleacher Nation. He started with BN full-time in 2019 immediately after graduating from the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign with a degree in Journalism (yes, he started with the Jim Boylen Era). Since joining, Elias has been the driving force behind Bulls and NBA content for both the site and social accounts. You can follow him on Twitter/X @Schuster_Elias.

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