Nikola Vucevic extension talks feel premature for Bulls

Nikola Vucevic, Chicago Bulls (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Nikola Vucevic, Chicago Bulls (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /

Although all 15 roster spots have been filled, the Chicago Bulls may not be done making moves just yet. A recent report suggests the team is interested in bringing Nikola Vucevic back on a contract extension.

This surprising development comes after Vucevic spent the entire summer mired in trade rumors and faced an overwhelming amount of scrutiny from the fanbase. Although the front office repeatedly said they were seeking an interior defender at last season’s trade deadline and again during this summer’s free agency, Vucevic might be here to stay for years to come.

Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times states in a recent article that extending Vucevic is “on the table”, a surprising development after a tumultuous second season with the Bulls. This report is in line with ESPN’s Jonathan Givony claiming in June that Vucevic is seeking a contract extension with the Chicago Bulls past the 2022-23 season.

The Chicago Bulls are jumping the gun too early by offering Nikola Vucevic a contract extension.

I’d like to start things off by making it clear that I believe it’s still possible for Vooch to have a bounce-back season with the Chicago Bulls next year. We saw flashes throughout the season where he was the only dependable source of production, and he really stepped his game up in the postseason. But if the Bulls are going to offer him a contract extension, Vucevic needs to be able to consistently maintain that elevated level of play throughout an entire season.

If the front office believes he’s still capable of doing so, offering a contract extension right now could be a strategically timed move to secure Vucevic to a team-friendly contract. If Vooch does play very well next year, Chicago risks having to fork over the presumed last big payday of his career; taking action now could possibly prevent a financial disaster in the future.

But that calculated gamble still depends on Vucevic’s ability to actually be the player the front office believed they traded for. For me, this all feels a bit too risky and could destroy Chicago’s future financial flexibility. For the front office, it could be a desperate attempt to get the most of their mistake.

Cowley offers some insight into Chicago’s thinking in his article.

"“A source said both sides want [Vucevic] to stay with the team beyond the last year of his contract this coming season and will have initial discussions on what that might look like when training camp begins in the fall. Why? Because if the price is right, Vucevic remains the type of player who fits in with how the Bulls were built on both ends of the floor.”"

Just because the Bulls were built without a rim protector, does not mean the Bulls would not like to have a rim protector. In fact, the front office has repeatedly claimed finding interior defense and rim protection is a priority for them, so it’s clear to see that Vucevic isn’t exactly checking all their boxes on both ends.

It’s far more likely the Bulls are looking to retain Vucevic because they expect to be operating way over the salary cap and possibly even the luxury tax threshold after inking Zach LaVine to a historically large contract. If the Bulls allow Vucevic to walk in free agency, they won’t actually open up any cap space to find his replacement.

For that reason, offering Nikola a contract extension and keeping an asset on the books could be a priority for Chicago.

"“Extending Vucevic on a one-year deal with a player option for the 2024-25 season would make sense for both sides, considering how long the contracts of Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso run. But that also would be predicated on Vucevic getting back to being a 39% three-point shooter, as well as playing a bit more physically on defense.”"

If the extension is just a one-year affair, that’s something I could definitely get behind at the right price. It would also be preferable to see Chicago avoid attaching a big player option, simply because that’s adding a lot of extra risk to the team’s future if Vucevic’s play has indeed dropped off a cliff.

It seems far more likely that Vucevic would look to secure a multi-year deal, one that will take him through up until he turns 35 years old. By accepting a one-year extension, he risks further damaging his image around the league if he doesn’t play well. Long-term security should be a priority for Vucevic because even now he’s not likely to earn less than $15 million or so per year. However, that could all change a year from now.

There doesn’t seem to be any incentive for the Bulls to line up the contracts of Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso, and Vucevic to all expire at the same time, as Cowley states. If anything, that just adds another layer of uncertainty to this whole ordeal.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t make much sense for the Chicago Bulls to offer Vucevic a contract extension unless it’s a lopsided affair in their favor. Likewise, it doesn’t make sense for Vucevic to agree to a risky one-year contract when he could secure his future this summer with a great number of teams.

I’m not opposed to the idea of a Vucevic return and will evaluate any potential extension as objectively as I can. But for now, it’s just difficult envisioning a scenario where both parties are satisfied enough to put pen to paper on a new deal by the end of training camp.

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