Extend Nikola Vucevic on the table, and may be needed for the Bulls

Center Nikola Vucevic was an easy target for Bulls fans last season.

At 6-10 and maybe a few summers before entering dad-bod territory, the anger of the fanbase was understandable. Misguided in many ways, but understandable.

After all, Vucevic was seen as a key part of the tripod on which the Bulls’ core was built. And with DeMar DeRozan having an MVP-like season and Zach LaVine still good for 24 points per game, it was Vucevic’s numbers that were eye-opening — and not in a good way.

Vucevic averaged 17.6 points, his fewest since the 2017-18 season with the Magic, and his 31.4% three-point shooting was his worst since adding long-range shooting to his arsenal. six years ago.

Forget the fact that Vucevic’s touches were down from his first 28 games with the Bulls the previous season and well down from his days with the Magic – nearly five fewer shots per game since the 2020 season – 21. Fans want production, not excuses.

Then there was his defense. Vucevic was never considered a rim protector, but when the Bulls’ defensive-minded backcourt started showing up daily in the practice room, his defensive shortcomings were on full display, especially in the pick-and-play. -roll.

Vucevic admitted he brought his attacking mistakes on the defensive side of the ball in the first half of last season, and that’s never pretty.

That’s why Vucevic’s trade became a common catch on social media at the start of the offseason.

News flash: Vucevic is still with the Bulls.

And not only is he still with the Bulls, but a source has said both parties want him to stay with the team beyond the final year of his contract this coming season and will have initial discussions about what to do next. what it might look like when training camp begins in the fall.

Why? Because if the price is right, Vucevic remains the type of player that matches how the Bulls were built at both ends of the floor.

Offensively, he spaces the field and is a willing playmaker. Defensively, the Bulls invested in defense from the outside in. Due to the staff they have under contract the next few seasons, it would be difficult to pivot from that.

“I think we have the talent to compete with all the teams in the East,” Vucevic said at the end of last season. ”Nothing happens overnight; nothing happens in a season. It takes time. As a group, you have to go through the ups and downs of the year, successes, failures, whatever. All of this gives you the opportunity to grow and improve. For us, I think it could really happen.

”We believe that we have the necessary pieces to build a successful group. All the guys are motivated, so yeah, I see no reason to panic and split the group.

Especially in a market where options will be limited.

Sure, the Bulls may seek a trade, but their draft picks are drying up after Vucevic’s acquisition two seasons ago and actual trade assets are limited. And a look at the free agent center class next summer shows 37-year-old Al Horford, oft-injured Myles Turner and little else.

Extending Vucevic on a one-year contract with a player option for the 2024-25 season would make sense for both parties, given the length of Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso’s contracts.

But that would also depend on Vucevic becoming a 39% three-point shooter again, as well as playing a little more physically on defense.

If that doesn’t happen, expect fan business sentiment to continue to grow.

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