Bulls Rumors

Vucevic Doesn't Look Right After COVID Bout

  • Nikola Vucevic hasn’t looked right since returning from a bout with COVID-19, Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun Times opines. In his third game back on Saturday, the Bulls big man took only nine shots, scored seven points and committed three turnovers. The Heat paid special attention to him defensively. “I do think he’s getting his footing back under him,” coach Billy Donovan said. His 13.4 PPG are his lowest since his first season with the Magic in 2012-13, Cowley notes.

Bulls Notes: Vucevic, Carter, White, DeRozan

There was plenty of nostalgia for Bulls center Nikola Vucevic on Friday night as he returned to Orlando for the first time since being traded in March, writes K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago. Vucevic, who spent eight-and-a-half seasons with the Magic, got a warm reception from fans during player introductions and again after a video tribute.

“It was definitely emotional just being back in this building and seeing all the people I’ve met throughout the years and friendships I’ve built,” Vucevic said. “It was a lot to take in for sure.  … It’s a special place for me and it always will be special for me to come back.”

Vucevic nearly missed his return to Orlando because of COVID-19, but he was able to start playing again Wednesday after being sidelined for about two weeks. After posting 16 points and eight rebounds in 29 minutes against the Magic, he said his comeback is going well.

“It’s been a little better than I thought it would be, for sure. But I’m still not there 100%, which is expected,” Vucevic said of his conditioning. “It’s difficult because it’s not like an injury where you can do the bike or lift. For 10 days, I was not allowed to do anything. As much as I enjoy laying on my couch, after 10 days it’s not easy to come back. Just gotta work through it.”

There’s more on the Bulls:

  • Wendell Carter Jr. was surprised to be sent to Orlando in the trade for Vucevic, but he said he’ll be “forever grateful” to the Bulls for drafting him with the seventh pick in 2018, Johnson tweets.
  • With 20 points on 9-of-11 shooting, Coby White turned in his best performance Friday in the seven games since returning from shoulder surgery, notes Rob Schaefer of NBC Sports Chicago. White has also looked more active on defense than he was in his first two NBA seasons, according to Schaefer. “It’s been a real focus point since I’ve been back,” White said. “We’re so good defensively, I’m just trying to fit in.”
  • DeMar DeRozan has transformed his game by moving to power forward, per Seerat Sohi of The Ringer. The switch has been happening gradually over the last two seasons, but it became necessary after DeRozan signed with a Bulls team that already had Lonzo Ball, Zach LaVine and Alex Caruso in the backcourt.

Vucevic Worked With Magic On Trade

  • Center Nikola Vucevic said that being traded to the Bulls last season was a mutual decision between him and the Magic‘s front office, Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times reports. “It was something that we discussed a lot and it was mutually agreed,” he said. “It wasn’t a situation where they told me I wasn’t going to get traded, and then I get traded. A lot of it came from my communication with them, so it wasn’t a surprise for me. … It wasn’t working the way we wanted it, and I think it worked out for both parties in the end.’’
  • The Bulls’ reliance on small ball is a concern, K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago writes. Houston ended its 15-game slide against Chicago, which has lost two straight. The Bulls are now at a pivotal point in their season. “There’s got to be an internal drive,” coach Billy Donovan said. “We have shown signs of doing that. But we haven’t shown signs of doing it consistently enough.”

Nikola Vucevic Set To Return For Bulls

After being sidelined for the Bulls‘ last seven games, center Nikola Vucevic will return to action on Wednesday night in Houston, tweets Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times.

Vucevic tested positive for COVID-19 two weeks ago and was in the NBA’s health and safety protocols up until this week. Although he has been cleared to play, he’ll be on a minutes limit tonight, per Cowley.

Vucevic got off to a slow start this season, averaging just 13.6 PPG on 39.5% shooting in 11 games (34.2 MPG). However, he has contributed 10.9 RPG and a career-best 4.3 APG, and played a key role in Chicago’s hot start.

The Bulls are 8-3 with Vucevic in the lineup and have gone 4-3 without him. The big man has also been part of many of Chicago’s best defensive lineups — the club’s defensive rating is 101.1 when he plays, compared to 106.2 when he sits.

Meanwhile, Bulls guard Alex Caruso had initially been considered a game-time decision for Wednesday due to a left wrist contusion, according to Cowley (Twitter link). However, he has been listed as available on the team’s latest injury report.

And-Ones: 2022 Free Agents, M. Richardson, Capitanes

In his early look at 2022’s top free agents, John Hollinger of The Athletic ranks Bulls guard Zach LaVine as the No. 1 player in next year’s class, ahead of stars like Wizards guard Bradley Beal and Nets guard James Harden. As Hollinger explains, LaVine will be just 27 years old when he reaches free agency, which means his next contract is a good bet to cover his prime years. Beal will be 29 and Harden will be entering his age-33 season, so the final seasons of long-term deals would be a little riskier in those cases — especially for Harden.

Here are a few more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • Former NBA first-round pick Malachi Richardson is continuing his professional career in Poland, having signed with King Wilki Morskie Szczecin, according to the team. The 22nd overall pick in the 2016 draft, Richardson hasn’t played in the NBA since the 2018/19 season and most recently suited up in Italy.
  • Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Mexico City Capitanes’ first season in the NBA G League has them based out of an apartment complex in Fort Worth, Texas without a home arena. Scott Cacciola of The New York Times takes a closer look at an unusual start for the G League’s first Mexican franchise, which won’t actually play in Mexico in 2021/22.
  • With the Lakers and Knicks set to face one another in Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night, Sopan Deb of The New York Times explores why Sportico and Forbes have given both teams valuations north of $5 billion and why the value of a big-market franchise like the Lakers or Knicks isn’t really dependent on whether or not they’re winning.

Green, Jones Give Bulls More Options On Defense

  • Part of the Bulls‘ improvement on defense stems from more playing time for Javonte Green and the trade for Derrick Jones Jr., since both Green and Jones can guard multiple positions, observes Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times. They have been asked to contribute more to the team’s interior defense while Nikola Vucevic is sidelined with COVID-19. ‘‘Position-less basketball, right?’’ Green said. ‘‘That’s our job. We’re not here to completely shut down anybody; we’re here to do our part in making life hard on (opposing big men) while (center Nikola Vucevic) is out.”

Bulls Notes: LaVine, Caruso, Defense, White

Bulls writer Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times recently had a discussion with star wing Zach LaVine about potentially becoming a max player this summer. Cowley had previously been skeptical of the team committing so much money to LaVine — his maximum five-year contract in free agency would be a projected $207MM (or $241MM+ if he’s All-NBA, which is certainly possible).

LaVine says he respects Cowley’s opinion, but that doesn’t mean he agrees. He points to his improved defense as one way in which he’ll prove he’s worth the max.

It’s your job to have opinions, and one of my jobs as a professional athlete and a guy that’s extremely competitive is to go out there and try and prove people wrong,” LaVine said. “Am I going to get that right every time? No, but that’s the fun of sports. I get to have chips on my shoulder and bring that extra stuff to the game.

Look, I get it — I do want to improve on everything, and I know that I haven’t had the best narrative for defense. I know people know me as a hard worker, a great guy, someone that goes out there and can obviously score the hell out the ball. But I want to be known as a winner and a complete player. I mean, I’m not putting all this work in just to be a regular guy in the NBA. I think I’m proving that each and every year.”

Here’s more from the Windy City:

  • Free agent acquisition Alex Caruso has been a difference-maker for the Bulls, but that doesn’t mean he’s focused on individual defensive honors, writes Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic. Mayberry notes that Caruso is tied for the league lead in steals per game (2.5) and is second in the league in deflections (4.2). “Carushow” also has stellar advanced stats on defense; he leads the league in Steal Percentage (4.1), is tied for seventh in Defensive Win Shares (0.8), fourth in Defensive Box Plus/Minus (2.8), and 12th in Defensive Rating (101.3), per Basketball-Reference.
  • In the same piece, Mayberry says that Caruso and sign-and-trade acquisition Lonzo Ball have anchored the team’s surprisingly stout defense. Many thought the Bulls would struggle on that end, but they’re currently eighth in the league with a 104.9 defensive rating. Ball is tied with Caruso for seventh in the league in Defensive Win Shares (0.8) while chipping in 5.3 rebounds, 1.9 steals, and 0.8 blocks per game, all strong stats for a guard.
  • Coby White is trying to find his rhythm after being sidelined for several months after shoulder surgery, Cowley writes in another article for the Sun-Times. White has gone scoreless in his first two games, going 0-for-4 from the field in 21 total minutes. He says his new teammates are happy to have him back on the court. “What’s been nice is all the guys have accepted me, they’ve brought me in. It could be really different. A new team having a great year, a new guy coming into the mix, but they don’t really care about any of that. They just want to see me on the floor again,” White said. He’ll become eligible for a rookie scale extension this summer.
  • Check out our Bulls team page for the latest notes and rumors from Chicago.

Central Notes: DeRozan, Jones Jr., Allen, Cunningham, J. Jackson

The Bulls are off to an outstanding 10-4 start and sign-and-trade acquisition DeMar DeRozan is a huge reason why. DeRozan scored 38 points against the Lakers on Monday, shooting 15-for-23 from the field, 2-for-5 from deep, and 6-of-6 from the line while adding six assists to an all-around great performance. Jamal Collier of ESPN writes that DeRozan is carrying “so many chips” on his shoulder, which he uses as motivation.

I can go down the list of just being counted out, being looked over,” DeRozan said. “So many chips that’s on my shoulder that I carry. And just wanting to be a winner and wanting to enjoy this ride. We can’t play this game forever, so I want to get as much as I can out of it.”

Through 14 games, DeRozan is averaging 26.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 4.1 assists in 35.3 minutes per contest, with a stellar .510/.371/.873 shooting line. Now 32, DeRozan says he’s never viewed his age as an issue and his new team is allowing him to be the best version of himself on the court.

I never looked at age as being an issue,” DeRozan said. “I never looked at it. People put the age limit on everything, and I never did. The way I worked, the way I take care of my body, the way I prepare, I knew what I was capable of doing. I just took different roads the last couple years of playing basketball, trying to do the right thing, figuring it out.

This time, just knowing my ability was always there, I never lost confidence. I never thought I couldn’t be who I was before. Chicago allowed me to completely be myself.”

Here’s more from the Central:

  • Bulls forward Derrick Jones Jr., an unrestricted free agent in 2022, recently spoke to Rob Schaefer of NBC Sports Chicago. With Nikola Vucevic sidelined, Jones has been getting minutes as a backup center, which is a new experience for him at the NBA level. Jones says he’s happy to defend anyone on the court. “Me personally, I’m not tripping. I love being on the floor, so any opportunity I get to be out there and just be able to contribute to winning and competing that’s all I want to do. I’m a competitor at the end of the day. I don’t care if I have to guard a five or a guard,” Jones said.
  • Bucks guard Grayson Allen, acquired via trade in the offseason, is loving his time in Milwaukee, writes Jim Owczarski of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “I know I’ve only been in Milwaukee and with the Bucks a short time but I’m really excited to have this extension here. It’s an incredible culture, incredible group of guys here. I’m really happy to be part of this group and extending my time here,” Allen said. He signed a two-year extension prior to the season and is averaging a career high 16.0 points and 3.9 rebounds in 14 games (29.9 minutes per game), with a .451/.438/.920 shooting line. He’s third in the NBA in three-pointers made.
  • Despite battling an injury to start his rookie campaign, Pistons first overall pick Cade Cunningham remains ever-confident in his abilities on and off the court, writes Keith Langlois of Pistons.com. Cunningham says he’s constantly adding to his game. “Every game, I feel like I add something to the hard drive and something to my game,” Cunningham said. “I’ve learned so much about me as a person and me as a player since I got to the NBA. It’s promising for me, at least, to stay confident and just believe in myself for the future.” Cunningham had 25 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists on Monday against the Kings.
  • Rod Beard of The Detroit News details how Pistons forward Josh Jackson found his way home to Detroit, and now he’s finding his way with the team. Jackson, an unrestricted free agent in 2022, says he grew up a Pistons fan. “It just kind of makes me feel like everything came full circle for me. Obviously, this was the team I grew up watching pretty much all of my early years,” Jackson said.

DeRozan Thought Offseason Move To Lakers Was “Done Deal”

Before he agreed to a three-year, $81MM+ deal with the Bulls over the summer, veteran forward DeMar DeRozan believed he’d be headed to the Lakers, he told Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

According to Haynes, DeRozan’s agent Aaron Goodwin was working “feverishly” behind the scenes with the Spurs in the days leading up to free agency to orchestrate a sign-and-trade deal that would send his client to Los Angeles. However, the Lakers’ talks with San Antonio tapered off as they pivoted to a trade for Russell Westbrook, forcing DeRozan to go in another direction as well.

“I felt like going to the Lakers was a done deal and that we were going to figure it out. I was going to come home,” DeRozan told Haynes after the Bulls’ victory over the Lakers on Monday. “The business side of things just didn’t work out. A couple of things didn’t align. It didn’t work out. It’s just part of the business, part of the game. My next option was definitely Chicago. So, looking back at it, it worked out well.”

Although there were multiple offseason reports linking DeRozan to his hometown Lakers, this is the first indication we’ve gotten that a potential deal gained real traction. The Lakers also reportedly seriously considered the possibility of trading for Buddy Hield before instead opting for Westbrook.

Acquiring a player via sign-and-trade would’ve hard-capped the Lakers’ team salary at $143MM in 2021/22, so it makes sense that the club preferred to trade for a player on an existing contract, avoiding that hard cap. Given how DeRozan and Westbrook have played so far this season, Los Angeles may be regretting its decision, but DeRozan told Haynes he doesn’t look at it that way.

“Nah, Russ is a Hall-of-Fame player,” DeRozan said. “It’s hard to turn down that caliber of player. I can’t speak for the Lakers, but they went with what they felt was best for them. And all due respect to them. No hard feelings. No animosity, but I just look at it as part of the game. A deal is never done until it’s done. I learned that. It just didn’t work out. I’m just happy I’m in Chicago.”

The Clippers were also considered a viable suitor for DeRozan during free agency, and the 32-year-old acknowledges L.A.’s other team was in the mix. However, he told Haynes it “didn’t get as far as the Lakers situation.”

Since the Lakers agreed to trade for Westbrook on draft day (July 29), four days before free agency opened, DeRozan’s comments and Haynes’ report suggest the Spurs and Lakers may have violated the NBA’s gun-jumping rules if they were exploring a sign-and-trade that early in the offseason. Given that the Bulls are currently being investigated for possible gun-jumping in their Lonzo Ball sign-and-trade, perhaps DeRozan’s insinuation that other teams were engaging in similar conversations wasn’t an accident.