Even when they win, are the Chicago Bulls ever truly happy? In a season that has been filled with more downs than ups, this team has finally appeared to get things back on track by winning three of their last four contests and is now the NBA’s best defense since the turn of the New Year. We should all be happy, right?
For the most part, I believe everyone is. Everyone except Nikola Vucevic, that is, who seems to have let his emotions spill over from an interaction with newly-signed teammate Patrick Beverley late in the fourth quarter against the Pistons. After allowing an easy lay-up to Detroit’s Jaden Ivey, Beverley got immediately got on Vooch’s case for not sticking to his defensive assignment. Vucevic almost certainly didn’t want to hear it, as Ivey was Beverley’s man to guard in the first place.
Here’s a clip of the incident, you can be the judge of who’s at fault.
As you can see, Beverley was beaten off the dribble and instead of overcompensating and risking fouling, he directed Ivey toward his help man on the interior in Vucevic. Unfortunately, Vooch just wasn’t paying attention. Not even remotely. Obviously, it can be frustrating immediately having the blame placed on you by the person who just got beat on defense, but Vucevic was tasked with patrolling the paint here and still committed the egregious error of turning his back to the action and not following the ball.
Considering this game came down to the very last moments, the Bulls very well could have lost in embarrassing fashion against one of the NBA’s worst teams due to this error. Fortunately, Jaden Ivey would commit an egregious mistake by calling a timeout his team didn’t have, essentially handing the win over to Chicago in the final 10 seconds. Considering Vooch wasn’t willing to let this go even after the game ended, I’m just thankful Chicago at least emerged with the win.
Nikola Vucevic is feeling the heat as Patrick Beverley grills him for failing to anchor the Chicago Bulls’ defense in the clutch.
After the game, rumors begin to leak that Vucevic is frustrated with the way adversity has been handled on the court, and not just in last night’s game. Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times has been a controversial source at times in the past due to a long track record of pessimistic takes about the Bulls, so it comes as no surprise he was quick to spring at the first hint of turmoil in the locker room. Here’s the latest from Cowley’s report.
"“According to a source close to the situation, Vucevic hasn’t been thrilled with some of the recent finger-pointing, and this wasn’t the first time he was unhappy with the tone directed at him and other teammates.While the source said it wasn’t just a ‘Beverley-Vooch thing,’ it does put the team’s leadership hierarchy in question. And it’s not the first time that has been questioned this season.”"
Based on what we’ve seen from Vucevic thus far, I doubt this is an issue that will spiral in the wrong direction. He’s proven himself to be a rather calm and collected individual, I don’t get the sense that a locker room feud is something he’d particularly enjoy engaging in. That being said, I wouldn’t be surprised if Vucevic felt as though his place in the hierarchy was being challenged by the newcomer Beverley.
The front office has repeatedly tried to sell this roster as a ‘Big 3’ with its trio of All-Star players. We now know that Vucevic is clearly no longer playing at an All-Star level, but that doesn’t mean his pedigree doesn’t demand a certain level of respect amongst his peers. “I know how valuable I am to this team,” Vucevic says, “It’s not like I’m a third- or fourth-year player, just trying to establish myself and establish my value. It’s pretty well-known around the league what I can do, what I bring to the table.”
Update: Vucevic provided further comment to Bulls beat reporter K.C. Johnson on the situation after this article was posted, see below.
This is something we’d typically just brush under the rug and be done with it, but with only 19 games remaining in the season and Vucevic prepared to enter free agency this season, it’s hard not to think about the potential consequences a situation like this could have. Vooch has already expressed a strong desire to compete for a championship before he retires; why should he remain with the Bulls if that doesn’t seem a feasible goal for this team and he already feels disrespected to begin with?
And should the Bulls even be losing sleep over a 32-year-old center bolting in free agency just because he couldn’t handle the criticism for his poor defense?