Following the news from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski just announced on Twitter that 32-year-old center Nikola Vucevic and the Chicago Bulls have reached an agreement on a new contract, one of this team’s biggest question marks has finally been answered. Vucevic’s new deal is for 3 years and $60 million, leaving many fans unsure of just how to feel about this news.
This deal is yet another example of the front office’s inability to properly understand the concept of the sunk cost fallacy and how to value a player based on market factors. Three months ago, I broke down what I thought Vucevic was worth, about 15 million per year. Since then, the landscape of the league has shifted quite a bit. Most notably, a new collective bargaining agreement was reached between the player’s union and the owners. The new CBA tightens restrictions on how deeply teams can spend into the luxury tax, which has led to cost-cutting measures from teams around the league (aside from Phoenix).
My argument then and now remains twofold. First, at 32 years old Vucevic is an aging player, and receiving 20+ million (AAV) would make him a complete standout with players in his age and position. Here is the list of all centers over 30 years old that average 15 minutes per game or more and their contracts:
- Rudy Gobert – Five years, $205,000,002– $41,000,000 AAV (average annual value)
- Jonas Valančiūnas – Two years, $30,135,000 – $15,067,500 AAV
- Brook Lopez – Four years, $52,000,000 – $13,000,000 AAV
- Kelly Olynyk – Three years, $37,195,122 – $12,398,374 AAV
- Dwight Powell – Three years, $33,240,375 – $11,080,125 AAV
- Al Horford – Two years, $19,500,000 – $9,750,000 AAV
- Mason Plumlee – Three years, $24,662,500 – $8,220,833 AAV
Yippee Bulls fans, we put Vucevic’s name next to Gobert’s as a bad contract!
Running things back with Nikola Vucevic at a rate nobody else was willing to pay will come back to haunt the Bulls.
The second argument I made was that there was very little market competition for Vucevic. The only teams 2 months ago that had even an outside possibility of competing for Vucevic were the Pistons, Spurs, Rockets, Thunder, Jazz, Hornets, Nets, Heat, Raptors, and Mavericks. Even in these past two months, we can cross a lot of these teams off the list:
- At the draft, San Antonio took arguably the most-hyped prospect since LeBron James in Victor Wembanyama, which should have them locked up at center for the foreseeable future.
- The Jazz drafted Taylor Hendricks ninth overall, a 6-foot-10 rim protecting PF/C, and traded for John Collins, who fits the same bill as Hendricks. Walker Kessler will also likely anchor the center position after a very promising rookie campaign.
- The Mavericks drafted Derick Lively, another center, and traded for Richaun Holmes, also a center. Additionally, they were only a real player if Kyrie Irving left which seems increasingly unlikely.
- The Heat made an incredible run to the finals and will certainly focus their little cap space on getting key players such as Max Strus and Gabe Vincent to return or on making a splash for a star player (perhaps Damian Lillard). With Bam Adebayo holding down the fort at center, Miami has no need for Vucevic.
- The Nets are facing a lot of competition to re-sign restricted free agent Cameron Johnson. Given that the Nets have the ability to match any offer Johnson receives, thereby forcing him to stay, I doubt that he walks away for nothing just a few months after the Nets traded for him. He will eat up whatever cap space the Nets could have had to acquire Vucevic.
- The Raptors are set to be more focused on maintaining their current players than they are on acquiring outside talent. Gary Trent Jr. opted into his $18 million dollar player option which has restricted what other moves the Raptors can make. Additionally, I highly doubt that the Raptors would trade have traded their 2024 first-round pick and a pair of second-rounders for Jakob Poeltl if the Raptors didn’t have a strong belief they could re-sign Poeltl this summer.
- At the draft, the Thunder took on Davis Bertan’s contract in order to move up two slots and select Kentucky Guard Cason Wallace. Leaving the Thunder with the non-tax-payer mid-level exception to sign someone which is about $12.4 million.
This leaves two remaining teams: the Pistons and the Hornets. Why would the Pistons who already have Jalen Duren, James Wiseman, Marvin Bagley, and Isaiah Stewart decide ‘You know what would be best for all these young bigs on our team? Giving them fewer minutes’. I don’t see it, at all. That leaves the Hornets. I will be honest, with some of these other teams I made some assumptions about what they will do (the Raptors and Poeltl, for example) but I feel confident in my conclusions.
The Hornets, on the other hand, are a black box for a number of reasons. First, the current people they have running the franchise have at times been shrewd, letting Kemba walk because they knew his knees were giving out, and at other times philanthropic to aging players (Gordon Hayward). Second, Michael Jordan just sold the team and no one knows how much new ownership is partaking in decision-making. Third, the Hornets have a million other questions in this free agency period. What will happen with Miles Bridges, who missed all of last season due to a domestic violence incident? How much will PJ Washington cost them on the open market? Will they bring back Kelly Oubre? In short, god only knows what the Hornets will do.
The way I see it, the Bulls had next to no competition for Vucevic which gave them all of the leverage. Market factors, not past production (or even future production), should determine the value of a contract. Then again, the Bulls could have done much worse and they are, after all, paying about the 10th best center in the league about the 10th most money per year. I, like many Bulls fans, don’t look forward to 3 more years of toiling within mediocrity with no real hope of getting any better. Cheers!