The Chicago Bulls made a bad trade back in 2021, sending Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr., and two first-round picks to the Orland Magic for Nikola Vucevic. The big man hasn’t helped the Bulls reach the next level and now enters NBA free agency in the 2023 offseason. While letting him walk makes the most sense, reports are the team is entering Nikola Vucevic contract extension talks, and Bulls fans aren’t happy. Here are three reasons why these fans are right, and a Nikola Vucevic Bulls extension is a terrible idea.
3. Nikola Vucevic isn’t a great rim protector
In the modern NBA, a center needs to be a high-level rim protector in order for a team to succeed, and Nikola Vucevic isn’t that. One look at the center's stats the last few seasons should make that clear.
Vucevic’s defensive rating per 100 possessions in 2022-23 was 110, which is tied for 34th in the league and for 18th among qualified NBA centers. His 1.0 blocks per 100 possessions were even worse, putting him T-79 in the league and T-45 among qualified centers.
He is a good defensive rebounder, leading the league with 744 boards, but he played all 82 games and 33.5 minutes per game to get that. Per 100 possessions, his 13.2 defensive rebounds put him seventh in the league.
The defensive limitations are one of the reasons a Nikola Vucevic Bulls contract extension doesn’t make sense, but it’s certainly not the only reason.
2. Vucevic isn’t a winning player in the modern NBA
Vucevic was an All-Star in his last three seasons with the Magic and his first year with the Bulls thanks to his offensive prowess. But entering 2023 NBA free agency, it's clear his offense has fallen off dramatically since those days.
In his All-Star seasons, Vucevic averaged over 20 points per game in each of those seasons. In the last two seasons for the Bulls, his points have dropped to 17.6 per game. The advanced offensive stats have fallen off as well.
As an All-Star, Vucevic had a PER of 21.8 or higher. In the last two seasons that has dropped to 18.2 and 19.1, respectively. His offensive box plus/minus was 3.8-5.5 in his best seasons and down to 1.9 this year.
Overall, the offensive numbers aren’t terrible for Vucevic, but at 32, he’s no longer the efficient scorer he once was. And with the Bulls’ current roster, what he does do well is obviously not adding up to enough wins for the team to be a contender.
At this point in his career, Vucevic could be a valuable second-unit scorer on a contending team. But on the Bulls, he’s one of their best offensive players, and that’s not good enough.
1. A Nikola Vucevic contract extension would kill the Bulls' flexibility
There is a number where a Nikola Vucevic Bulls contract extension makes sense. However, at $20 million a year or more — like he’s been making on his last contract — it is simply too much for the Bulls to pay in NBA free agency this offseason.
And that’s the biggest problem.
There were plenty of reports that Vucevic was on the trade block at the 2023 NBA trade deadline, and no team took the bait at $22 million, even with an expiring contract. If the Nikola Vucevic Bulls contract extension is anywhere in that neighborhood this offseason, the center will get locked into the Bulls for the life of the contract.
That is exactly what the Bulls don’t need. Even if Lonzo Ball comes back next season — which is a major question mark right now — the Bulls are not a contender.
Chicago needs to keep maximum roster flexibility this offseason in order to start to rebuild. They don’t have their 2023 first-round pick, as it went to the Magic as part of the Vucevic trade, but they do have the assets to start a rebuild as soon as next season.
DeMar DeRozan is an expiring contract that should be easy to move at the trade deadline this coming season, and Zach LaVine is signed long-term, giving him trade value as well. The Bulls also have their own pick and a top-14 protected first from the Portland Trail Blazers in 2024 as well.
All this makes this season a perfect time to start. A tear-down and rebuild, but a Nikola Vucevic Bulls contract extension will hamper that.
It will be a huge blow to Bulls general manager Marc Eversley, who made the initial Vucevic trade, to let him walk away for nothing, and it may even cost him his job. However, it is the right thing to do at this point, as much as it hurts, which is why the Bulls must not re-sign Vucevic this offseason.