The Chicago Bulls fell to a mediocre 19-24 in the 2020-21 NBA season as four-of-five losers at the 2021 NBA trade deadline. The last game before the deadline was a home loss to the underwhelming Cleveland Cavaliers, which was especially frustrating. With the Bulls in another slump, their new front office, led by Arturas Karnisovas, decided it was time to shine.
Out of nowhere, Chicago made a blockbuster trade with the Orlando Magic for All-Star center Nikola Vucevic, who averaged 24.5 points, 11.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists while shooting from the field 48.0 percent and 40.6 percent from 3-point range. time of the transaction. As part of the trade, the Bulls include Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr. and a pair of protected first-round picks. Chicago also accepted Al-Farouq Aminu in the trade.
At the time, it was a bold move to help the Bulls be more credible in their playoff push and make Zach LaVine the All-Star running mate as his free agency looms in 2022. There are some questions about what it takes to get the deal done, but this new front office clearly wants to do something big after a quiet first offseason.
Now a season and a half after Vucevic, the deal is currently seen as a mixed bag at best, especially considering how much future Chicago has pledged to get him.
The Bulls didn’t even make it to the 2021 playoffs after trading for Vucevic, though it’s hard to blame him, as he’s averaging 21.5 points, 11.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists while shooting 47.1 percent from the field and three Shooting 38.8 percent from the field. Catching up with Covid-19 late in the season was a big deal for Zach LaVine, and Chicago never had a good chance of building chemistry with its new lineup. Keep in mind that the Bulls also changed things up by bringing in Daniel Theis and Troy Brown Jr. in another trade, and the new lineup is a little awkward.
Chicago continued a major overhaul this past offseason, bringing in Ayo Dosunmu in the draft and then acquiring three key players in Lonzo Ball, DeMar DeRozan (which Aminu used for this sign-and-trade) and free agent Alex Caruso. Vucevic helped recruit DeRozan’s former Southern California Trojan teammates to the Bulls, though the $81.9 million contract also had a lot of talk.
While Chicago is off to a solid start to the 2021-22 season, Vucevic has been inconsistent and has often struggled in scoring efficiency. His efficiency improved as the season went on, but the Bulls slumped in the second half of the season as injuries, lineup flaws and a tougher schedule left them struggling on both ends of the floor. They rose from the top of the Eastern Conference to sixth (46-36) after 60 games (39-21).
The season ended with a five-game series loss to the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round. Vucevic played well in the series, averaging 19.4 points, 12.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.2 blocks while shooting 44.0 percent from the field, 31.0 percent from 3-point range and 8.4 shots per game. Second three-pointer. The Bucks allowed Vucevic to dare to beat them from distance throughout, but he couldn’t do it consistently, which has been a theme throughout his season as he shoots high in 2020-21. In the 2020-21 season, he is averaging 40.0 percent from 3-point range on 6.3 attempts per game and just 31.4 percent on 4.5 attempts per game in the regular season.
Based on his career numbers (34.8 percent), the 2020-21 3-point percentage looks like an outlier, likely because Covid-19 has kept fans in the stands for most of the season. The sharp decline this season is a troubling sign for the 31-year-old, who rarely gets to the free-throw line or relies on free throws, drop shots and mid-range jumpers to score.
Vucevic’s defense is also a major talking point. While not as bad as his worst critics claim due to his generally solid positioning, quick hands and basketball IQ, he was exposed with Ball and Caruso out. As a rim protector, he doesn’t defend on the perimeter, which is a common problem for other slow-footed centers when other teams move to five-out offense in the playoffs.
Vucevic’s weaknesses can be overshadowed to some extent by the strong defenders around him, but it’s certainly a problem for the Bulls that their top three players are offense-first stars. According to NBA.com, the Vucevic-DeRozan-LaVine trio played 1,206 minutes together during the regular season and had an offensive rating of 112.1 and a defensive rating of 113.2. While the three were slightly better defensively on the floor in the playoffs (108.3), the offense fell completely off a cliff (101.2) due to a number of factors.
So while Chicago has been successful in the 2021-22 season, there are legitimate questions about the viability of this core. Vucevic’s decline has something to do with it, which makes it fair to question how much the Bulls gave up to get him.The idea of a trade still makes sense because Chicago needs it something Vucevic is a great player with relatively rare attacking skills (he’s underrated passing from midfield), but in hindsight the deal certainly looks worse and he wonders if he’s the right fit There are advantages for players to cash out many chips.
That’s true even if you believe Vucevic’s presence did play a key role in DeRozan’s selection of the Bulls. If Chicago takes another big step forward in the next few years, with Vucevic playing a pivotal role in some areas (either in his play or when he’s used to get better people), the story could reverse, But now the deal is likely to drop because of major losses.
Carter had the best season of his young career, averaging 15.0 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists while shooting 52.5 percent from the field and 32.7 percent from 3-point range. Yes, that was a bad Magic team, and Carter may need to leave Chicago for a fresh start, but he’s still a promising 23-year-old who could soon be more impactful than Vucevic.
As a result of the Vucevic trade, the Bulls sent the No. 8 pick in 2021 to Orlando, who became Franz Wagner. The Michigan product was named to the All-Rookie First Team and averaged 15.2 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.9 assists while shooting 46.8 percent from the field and 35.4 percent from 3-point range.
Chicago still owes a 2023 draft pick to Orlando, which is protected 1-4 in 2023 and 1-3 in 2024. That will almost certainly be conveyed in 2023, unless the Bulls somehow become a disaster next season and then get lucky in the lottery.
However, what has been done has been done, and now Chicago must decide Vucevic’s future. He will enter the final year of his contract and will receive a reasonable $22 million. An extension this offseason is far-fetched, but assuming LaVine re-signs as a free agent, the most likely scenario is a return to Vucevic for the 2022-23 season. LaVine’s departure could change the entire mindset of management, and it would be another blow to the Vucevic deal.
But even with LaVine back, the Bulls will still have to explore their options for Vucevic given his decline and those question marks surrounding the current core. Getting another player as good as Vucevic will be difficult, but it makes sense to make changes in order to create a more well-rounded, younger and more well-rounded squad. Names like Deandre Ayton, Myles Turner, Mitchell Robinson and Mo Bamba could be possible targets, although none of these players are slam dunkers and it’s unclear how easy they are. There will also be other options out there.
At the very least, the Bulls need a better backup for Vucevic in 2022-23. Tony Bradley and Tristan Thompson didn’t make it. Garbage time aside, youngster Marko Simonovic is simply not to be trusted and should not be expected to move forward. Derrick Jones Jr. has his moments as a small-ball No. 5, but Jones can’t do it very often and probably won’t be back. It’s interesting that Patrick Williams has more chances to be a small-ball center at times, but he still has to prove he can play at any position.
That said, the Bulls have to settle for the center position this offseason.Keeping Vucevic is not the worst thing in the world because he Yes Although the deal didn’t live up to expectations, it still helped, but the position had to be changed in some way. Lineup versatility is important, so Chicago has a lot of work to do on that front.