Amidst all the action and drama of the 2023 FIBA World Cup, Nikola Vucevic still found time to speak to reporters regarding his tenure with the Chicago Bulls. Yahoo’s Jake Fischer conducted an excellent interview with the Montenegrin All-Star, one I’d highly recommend reading in full here.
If you’re in a rush, however, one quote from Vucevic particularly stood out to me. Known for his straightforward honesty in his interviews, I was still surprised to see Vucevic speak outright on the rapidly closing window for this Bulls roster.
"“We know we can do better, and we have to do better… And we know it’s kind of our last chance as this core of guys to do something.”"
This has always been the elephant in the room with this team. The front office, players, and fans all seem to recognize it, but it has yet to actually be addressed by someone from within the Bulls organization. This team is built around three offensively-oriented stars, two of whom are on the wrong side of 30 years old and the other is locked into a max contract that makes him the 16th-highest paid player in the league.
If the Bulls aren’t already winning at a high level, is it really all that absurd to point out that this core roster may be beginning to overstay its welcome? It may make people feel uncomfortable to hear a player speak so candidly about the roster construction of his own team, but Vucevic is right on the money here with this statement.
Nikola Vucevic understands the clock is ticking for this current Bulls core to prove it can compete at a high level.
This Bulls team has already been forced to adapt in the face of adversity without their floor general Lonzo Ball out there, and they’ll need to continue adapting if they want to have a real shot at making a postseason run. Vucevic spoke on the impact losing Ball had on this team and the great effort he’s made to return to the court ever since going down with degenerative knee issues.
"“For us, it was tricky, because we kept waiting for him… You feel for the guy. He’s such a good player. And to have to deal with all that, it’s very difficult. I mean, he’s been very positive about it. He keeps trying to find ways to get back on the floor. There’s a lot of stuff people can’t see.”"
This was particularly interesting to me, as Vucevic has had to do his fair share of adapting as well. After spending eight and a half seasons as the primary option on the Orlando Magic, Vooch was thrust into an environment alongside Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan where touches would be a luxury, not a necessity.
When you look at things from this perspective, it becomes far more understandable as to why Vooch struggled to get off on the right foot from the jump. By all accounts, last season was a great improvement from the big man. Vucevic spoke to Fischer about that initial struggle he had adapting to the Bulls’ system.
"“I know in Chicago people have different opinions of how it’s been for me. But it’s not the same situation I had in Orlando. I’m not used the same way. I’m not playing the same way. Although I felt this year was one of my best ever. Scoring-wise, no. But I’m taking five, six shots less than I did in Orlando. It’s different strengths. It’s made me a better overall player for sure, and helped me mature, be able to adapt better, playing with different types of players in a different system.”"
I find it very interesting to see him directly address one of the largest critiques of his game here, especially with a very mature and leveled response. I’m glad to see Vucevic has gracefully accepted a lesser role while acknowledging he isn’t the top option any longer.