3:12pm: The Bulls have issued a press release officially announcing Vucevic’s extension.
“During his time in Chicago, Nikola has proven that he is a special player both on and off the court,” executive VP of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas said in a statement. “He has produced at an elite level since we acquired him and will remain an integral part of our foundation moving forward. Nikola’s willingness to do whatever is asked of him to help us win, while also being an established veteran leader for our group, makes him a valuable component of the culture of our organization. He is a consummate professional and tremendous teammate, which plays a big role in making us an attractive destination for other players. We are excited to have him continue to be part of our journey.”
2:42pm: The Bulls and Nikola Vucevic are nearing an agreement on a three-year, $60MM contract extension that would keep the veteran center off the free agent market, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link).
Vucevic, 32, was acquired by the Bulls at the 2021 trade deadline in a deal with Orlando. Since arriving in Chicago, he has averaged 18.2 points, 11.1 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game with a .492/.342/.812 shooting line in 181 total regular season appearances (33.2 MPG).
Vucevic isn’t an elite defender, but he’s a talented scorer and rebounder who has been remarkably consistent during his first two full seasons with the Bulls — he averaged 17.6 PPG, 11.0 RPG, and 3.2 APG in both 2021/22 and ’22/23.
The Bulls were considered a good bet to reach a new deal with Vucevic before or during free agency for multiple reasons. For one, their guaranteed contracts and the cap holds for restricted free agents Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu would almost certainly make them an over-the-cap team with or without Vucevic on the books, so they wouldn’t have had a clear path to replace him at the same salary slot if they’d let him walk.
There has also been a sense, as Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports wrote today, that Chicago didn’t love the idea of letting Vucevic go after paying such a steep price to acquire him from the Magic two years ago. That trade netted Orlando a pair of lottery picks – Franz Wagner and Jett Howard – in addition to young center Wendell Carter.
Assuming they officially finalize an extension with Vucevic by the June 30 deadline, the Bulls can shift their focus to free agency, where they’re expected to re-sign guards White and Dosunmu, according to Fischer. A new deal for unrestricted free agent Patrick Beverley is also a possibility, Fischer adds.
The Bulls project to be about $27MM below the luxury tax line after signing Vucevic, tweets ESPN’s Bobby Marks, though that estimate could vary depending on the exact structure of Vucevic’s extension, as well as Andre Drummond‘s player option decision. Once he officially signs, Vucevic will become ineligible to be traded for six months.
Meanwhile, an already-thin group of free agent centers will take another hit with both Vucevic and Reid off the market. Jakob Poeltl and Brook Lopez are the headliners at the position, with veterans like Mason Plumlee and Dwight Powell among the solid second-tier targets for teams in need of size. However, there aren’t a lot of reliable veterans available beyond those top few guys.