Nikola Vucevic

Bulls Notes: DeRozan, LaVine, Continuity, Williams, White

Bulls All-Star DeMar DeRozan says he has no doubt that All-Star teammate Zach LaVine deserves a max contract this summer, writes Rob Schaefer of NBC Sports Chicago. As an unrestricted free agent with seven years of experience, LaVine is eligible for a five-year deal from Chicago worth approximately $212MM.

Yeah. Max player, max talent, max everything,” DeRozan said when asked if LaVine is a max-worthy player after the Bulls’ season-ending loss to the Bucks Wednesday night. “He’s one of those players in this league that you don’t see too often. I tell him all the time how envious I am of the things he’s able to do. He deserves everything that’s coming to him for sure.”

DeRozan added that LaVine is extremely competitive in everything he does, on and off the court.

(He’s) just the ultimate competitor,” DeRozan said of LaVine. “That’s the best way I can sum it up. No matter what it is. I remember, we played tic tac toe on the plane, and I kept beating him and he wouldn’t leave me alone until he beat me. And that’s just him on the court as well.”

Here’s more from Chicago:

  • Center Nikola Vucevic said the front office and coaches stressed continuity in his season-ending exit interview following the team’s playoff ouster. “They want to have continuity, that’s for sure,” Vucevic said, per Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times. “As far as moves they can make, I don’t really know that. That’s their job.”
  • DeRozan also believes the team’s core will return next season, but that doesn’t mean management won’t look to improve the roster if the opportunity presents itself (Twitter link via K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago). “Just like we’re competitors, they are as well — for the right reasons,” DeRozan said.
  • Forward Patrick Williams says he’s looking to improve his consistency next season and has studied DeRozan’s habits to learn how to prepare as a pro. For his part, DeRozan says he plans to invite Williams and other teammates to work out with him in L.A. this summer (all Twitter links courtesy of Johnson and Schaefer from NBC Sports Chicago).
  • Coby White, who’s eligible for a rookie scale extension this summer, said management told him to keep working on his ball-handling and to build up his strength in order to become a better defender, as Schaefer relays (via Twitter).

Bulls Notes: LaVine, Vucevic, Bradley, DeRozan

A new contract for Zach LaVine will be among the Bulls‘ top priorities for the offseason, writes Bobby Marks of ESPN. LaVine, who has been a bargain on the four-year, $80MM offer sheet that Chicago matched in 2018, ranked 58th in the league in salary this season at $19.5MM, Marks notes.

Coming off back-to-back All-Star appearances, LaVine is eligible for a five-year max contract worth approximately $212MM. The only concern for the Bulls is durability, Marks adds, as LaVine missed 15 games this season, which was the fewest in his five years in Chicago.

Eleven of those games were due to soreness in his left knee, which had to be surgically repaired in 2017, and LaVine will likely have surgery on the knee again this offseason. His current contract contains a clause that protects the Bulls in case of a catastrophic injury to the knee, but the team shouldn’t expect him to agree to that in a new deal, according to Marks.

Marks cites five teams — the Pistons, Pacers, Magic, Spurs and Trail Blazers — that project to have enough cap space to make LaVine a $36.6MM max offer.

There’s more from Chicago:

  • Another major decision is a potential four-year, $118MM extension for center Nikola Vucevic, Marks states in the same piece. Vucevic, who was acquired at the 2021 trade deadline, regressed somewhat in his first full season with the Bulls, finishing fifth worst in the league in effective field goal percentage among players who took at least 500 shots and declining in three-point shooting from 40% to 31%. Marks suggests he might receive a two-year, $40MM extension similar to what Clint Capela got from the Hawks last year.
  • Tony Bradley, who started 10 games at center this season, has until June 29 to decide on his $2MM player option for 2022/23, Marks adds. Bradley only averaged 10 minutes per night in 55 games in his first season in Chicago, and he can make $100K more next season on a veteran’s minimum contract.
  • LaVine missed tonight’s game after being placed in health and safety protocols, and it may have been difficult for him to return if the Bulls had extended the series. “He’s pretty sick,” coach Billy Donovan said. “… He’s definitely under the weather, just in my communication with him.” (video link from NBC Sports Chicago)
  • Even though it ended with a first-round loss, DeMar DeRozan was very happy with his first season as a Bull, tweets KC Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago. “Perfect. Couldn’t have went a better way,” DeRozan said. “It’s been a great year to say the least. Just being around the front office, teammates, city. Everything has been something more than I could’ve imagined.”

Bulls Notes: LaVine, Dosunmu, Ball, Vucevic

Zach LaVine may have dealt with left knee issues during the season but that won’t affect his bargaining power in the offseason, according to Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic.  Multiple league executives believe it’s a foregone conclusion the Bulls swingman will sign a max contract as an unrestricted free agent this summer, Mayberry writes. LaVine could be the top available player on the market, depending on how things shake out with other potential free agents. He averaged 24.4 PPG, 4.6 RPG and 4.5 APG during the regular season.

We have more on the Bulls:

  • Rookie guard Ayo Dosunmu will be a key performer during the postseason with Lonzo Ball sidelined by a knee injury. He’s ready for the challenge, according to K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago. “I know I play hard. I have a lot of faith. I believe in my ability,” Dosunmu said. “I understand when (the intensity) rises, I’ll be able to rise also.”
  • The team will miss Ball in a number of ways during the playoffs, Johnson writes in a separate story. Johnson notes that, without Ball, the Bulls aren’t creating as many turnovers, their pace of play has slowed and their 3-point shooting has fallen off. The former No. 2 overall pick was ruled out for the playoffs last week after he suffered a setback during his rehab.
  • Nikola Vucevic dominated Brook Lopez two seasons ago in the playoffs, though the Bucks eliminated the Magic. The Bulls will need Vucevic to be stellar once again against his counterpart to have any chance of upsetting Milwaukee in the first round, Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times writes. “He’s really important to our team and he’s been important all year long,” coach Billy Donovan said. “I think for him, even when you speak to him, I do feel like that with some of him being in rhythm offensively, I really like the shots he’s gotten.” Vucevic averaged 28 PPG, 11 RPG and 4 APG during that series with Orlando, which lasted five games.

Central Notes: LeVert, Sexton, Pistons, Vucevic

The Cavaliers are working to re-integrate Caris LeVert into their lineup, starting him against the Bulls on Saturday, Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com writes. According to Fedor, the team may continue starting LeVert, who was acquired in a trade last month.

“We’ve got to do the best that we can to possibly help him,” head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “We brought him here to be a big piece of what we were doing moving forward, and we’ve got to get him comfortable. His teammates have to be able to play with him.

“We’ve got to find longer stretches of minutes for him, where he can just go out and feel like he can be himself. His minutes have been kind of choppy. We want to find ways to get him longer stretches where he doesn’t feel like he has to press, press. press to get something done in a small amount of time.”

Cleveland owns the seventh-best record in the Eastern Conference at 41-33. LeVert has averaged 12.6 points on 41.8% shooting since joining the team after averaging 18.7 points on 44.7% shooting with Indiana earlier in the season. The 27-year-old had also been dealing with a foot injury and no longer has a minutes limit.

There’s more from the Central Division tonight:

  • Cavaliers guard Collin Sexton is back in Cleveland taking shots, Fedor shares (via Twitter). Sexton, who suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee roughly four months ago, appeared in 11 games before the injury. He’ll become a restricted free agent this summer.
  • The Pistons’ centers have serious potential to improve their three-point shooting, head coach Dwane Casey said, as relayed by Steve Kornacki of The Detroit News. Detroit has been playing Isaiah Stewart and Marvin Bagley III significant minutes, but neither player is a good shooter. “They have the ability, too,” Casey said, “and it doesn’t matter which one. Marvin is coming up and setting the screens and Isaiah has the space in the corner. His next evolution in his pro career is that he has to be able to knock that 3-point shot down, and he will. I have no questions at all that either one of them is going to be able to. But we have to have that spacing when they’re in the game together.”
  • Bulls star Nikola Vucevic appears to be happy in Chicago and doesn’t want to discuss a potential trade, as relayed by Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times. If the Bulls underwhelm the rest of the campaign, the team may consider making some offseason moves. ‘‘That’s something that’s totally out of our control as players,’’ Vucevic said. ‘‘Our job is to try and go as far as we can, then the front office makes the decision on the team going forward. I was in a limited amount of trade rumors in my time in Orlando, so it’s something I really don’t think about very much. What’s the point of me worrying about that when it’s completely out of my control? That’s how I approach things like that.’’

Central Notes: Ball, Caruso, Williams, Vucevic, Love, Jackson

Bulls guards Lonzo Ball (knee) and Alex Caruso (wrist) did individual, non-contact work at the team’s practice on Sunday, K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago tweets. Joining them was forward Patrick Williams (wrist), who hasn’t played since October.

Caruso will need to be checked by a doctor again before being cleared for contact, coach Billy Donovan said. Still, all three players are now traveling with the team, Johnson adds (Twitter link).

Chicago next plays at Philadelphia on Monday. Johnson notes the club hasn’t decided if Ball, Caruso and Williams will continue traveling to Detroit on Wednesday, as they could benefit more from rehabbing at home before the team returns Saturday.

Here are some other notes from the Central Division:

  • Bulls star Nikola Vucevic didn’t practice on Saturday due to hamstring tightness, according to K.C. Johnson (Twitter link). Vucevic did weightlifting work and is listed as questionable to play against Philadelphia on Monday. He finished with 19 points, nine rebounds and two steals in a loss to the Bucks on Friday.
  • Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com examines how Kevin Love — a strong candidate for Sixth Man of the Year — found his basketball joy again. Love has revitalized his career with the Cavaliers this season, averaging 13.9 points and 7.1 rebounds in 22.1 minutes per game. He’s also shot 38.9% from three-point range, which is his highest mark since the 2017/18 campaign.
  • Pistons guard Frank Jackson (spine) will see a specialist and miss at least one more week, James Edwards III of The Athletic tweets. Jackson is receiving further evaluation after missing two straight games. He’s averaged a career-high 10.7 points per game this season.

Central Notes: Sabonis, Lonzo, Vucevic, Holiday, Stewart

Pacers center Domantas Sabonis returned to action Friday at Oklahoma City, Scott Agness of Fieldhouse Files tweets. Sabonis put up 24 points, 18 rebounds, 10 assists, two steals and two blocks in Indiana’s 113-110 overtime victory. Sabonis missed four games with a sprained left ankle suffered Jan. 19 against the Lakers. We noted earlier this week that a weekend return was a possibility.

The two-time All-Star is having another strong season for Indiana, putting up 19.0 points, 11.9 rebounds and 4.9 assists per contest on .577/.327/.744 shooting through 44 games (34.9 minutes).

Here’s more from the Central Division:

  • Bulls guard Lonzo Ball had successful knee surgery to repair his torn meniscus, according to Rob Schaefer of NBC Sports Chicago. If he returns within the projected six-to-eight week recovery period, Ball could be back in mid-to-late March.
  • Two-time All-Star Nikola Vucevic is having a disappointing individual season for Chicago, and James L. Jackson of FiveThirtyEight writes that the banged-up Bulls need the version of Vucevic they traded for last year. Vucevic is shooting just 33% from deep after shooting 40% last season, and his 49% mark on two-pointers is his lowest since 2016/17.
  • Pacers wing Justin Holiday is unvaccinated against COVID-19 and plans to remain that way, which could limit his appeal on the trade market somewhat because certain NBA cities have vaccine mandates, as James Boyd of The Indianapolis Star relays (via Twitter).
  • Second-year Pistons center Isaiah Stewart is a meticulous student of the game, per James L. Edwards III of The Athletic. Stewart has recorded notes in a binder for every game he’s played in his young career, frequently watching film to monitor his progress. He said not afraid to ask questions to improve his game. “Growing up, I’ve just always asked questions,” Stewart said. “I want to learn more. I know I don’t know it all. If there’s something I don’t see or understand, I’m definitely going to ask instead of acting like I know it all. Bottom line: I want to learn.”

Central Notes: DiVincenzo, Love, Vucevic, Pistons

Donte DiVincenzo missed two early layups in his return to action on Saturday, but that didn’t take away from his joy at being back on the court for the first time since May, writes Eric Nehm of The Athletic. It has taken seven months for the Bucks guard to work his way back from a torn ligament in his left ankle that he suffered in the first round of the playoffs.

Milwaukee’s first championship in 50 years was more remarkable considering that it was accomplished without DiVincenzo, who became a starter last year in his third NBA season. He had been scheduled to return December 15, but was forced to wait 10 extra days after entering the league’s health and safety protocols.

“I was telling Jrue (Holiday) afterwards, it kind of felt like rookie year,” DiVincenzo said. “I had those little butterflies in my stomach, anxious being on the court, just running around, I was like, ‘I’m back!’ So, it took me a little while. Obviously, it’s going to take a while. I haven’t touched a ball in a little while and just trying to get a rhythm. I’m just happy that I’m back. You can’t do anything unless you have your health on the court, so that’s all I’m thankful for, and I’ll keep building off of that.”

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • Brian Windhorst of ESPN looks at how the Cavaliers have found success by defying the league’s trend toward smaller lineups. In the space of less than a month, Cleveland drafted Evan Mobley, gave a $100MM extension to Jarrett Allen and traded for Lauri Markkanen. The Cavs have also benefited from a happier Kevin Love, who has accepted playing 20 minutes per night in a reserve role. “We’ve got a good thing going and I’m having a lot of fun,” he said. “It’s going to be great watching this young team develop.”
  • Nikola Vucevic has looked like a different player since the Bulls returned from their week-long break due to postponements and he credits advice from coach Billy Donovan, per Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times“One thing that when I spoke to Billy that has stuck out and helped me is he knew I was frustrated with shooting the ball and he was like obviously as a player you want to shoot the ball well,” Vucevic said, “but his main thing was I shouldn’t let that affect the rest of my game.’’
  • With eight players and three assistant coaches in protocols, the Pistons are enjoying the advantages of having a G League team close to home, observes Omari Sankofa II of The Detroit Free Press. The team has called up Cheick Diallo, Derrick Walton, Cassius Stanley and Deividas Sirvydis, along with Motor City Cruise coach DJ Bakker.

Central Notes: Vucevic, Donovan, Pickett, Livers, Markkanen

Bulls center Nikola Vucevic is confident he’ll work his way out of a slump, Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times writes. Vucevic most recently shot 3-of-15 in a loss against Miami, struggling to make shots inside the paint, in the mid-range areas, and behind the arc.

“I got some post-up and hook shots that I’ve made a career of, and nothing was falling for me,’’ he explained. “I look at all the games, and really I don’t have an explanation of what’s going on with my shot. It’s something I was always very consistent with and really good at my whole career – I was always a 50% shooter – so I don’t know.

“It’s just very disappointing for me because I’m trying to just be there for my team and do what I need to try and help us win, and I’m not doing that right now. I’m coming up short for my teammates and that’s the most frustrating part. When you lose and you don’t play well, you feel like it’s even more of your responsibility.’’

The Bulls are currently missing nine players due to health and safety protocols, meaning they badly need Vucevic’s production. The team acquired him and Al-Farouq Aminu (now a free agent) from Orlando last season, giving up Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter and two first-round picks.

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • Bulls coach Billy Donovan refuses to use COVID as an excuse, K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago writes. “We’re not the only team dealing with this,” Donovan said. While Chicago isn’t the only team dealing with an outbreak, the Bulls have certainly been hit the hardest. Nevertheless, the club has maintained a .500 record in its last 10 games and is currently 17-10.
  • The Pistons called up Jamorko Pickett and Isaiah Livers from their G League affiliate on Sunday, Keith Langlois of Pistons.com tweets. The decision was made shortly after the team announced that Jerami Grant would miss at least six weeks with a thumb injury.
  • Lauri Markkanen‘s obligation to serve in the Finland military isn’t expected to impact his NBA availability, Michael Scotto of HoopsHype writes. Markkanen has started in 19 games for the Cavaliers, who own the fifth-best record in the East at 16-12.

Central Notes: LeVert, Sexton, Markkanen, Vucevic, DiVincenzo

The Cavaliers‘ search for a scoring guard to replace the injured Collin Sexton and the Pacers‘ interest in moving some of their veteran players could lead to a possible trade, writes Joe Vardon of The Athletic.

Cleveland looks like a legitimate contender in the East with seven wins in its last nine games and will probably be seeking an upgrade before the February 10 trade deadline. An obvious area to address is replacing the 16.0 points per game that Sexton delivered before being lost for the year with a torn meniscus.

Caris LeVert is struggling with his shot this season, hitting just 42.1% from the field and 28.9% from three-point range, but he has a history of being a productive scorer. He is under contract for $17.5MM this season and $18.8MM in 2022/23, and at age 27 he fits in well with the Cavs’ timeline.

Indiana is known to like Sexton, who is only 22 and will be eligible for restricted free agency after the season. Vardon isn’t sure if the Pacers will commit to him in light of the injury, although it could allow them to re-sign him to a shorter, low-cost deal while he works his way back.

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • Cavaliers forward Lauri Markkanen has to fulfill a commitment to Finland’s military, but it shouldn’t affect his NBA availability, according to Michael Scotto of HoopsHype.
  • Bulls center Nikola Vucevic has been struggling with his shot after missing two weeks with COVID-19 and he expressed his frustration after Saturday’s loss in Miami, per Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times. Vucevic was just 3-of-15 from the field and missed several opportunities close to the basket. ‘‘It’s tough when you want to play well and go out there and help the team win and don’t do your job,’’ he said. ‘‘I have a lot of pride in myself and put the work in, obviously. It’s not working for me right now, but that’s part of it. I’ve never been through a slump like this, and I just have to work myself out of it. I’m not doing what I’m supposed to do.’’
  • When Donte DiVincenzo makes his season debut this week, he will return to a Bucks team that has changed since DiVincenzo suffered an ankle injury in the playoffs, notes Brian Sampson of Forbes. The offseason addition of Grayson Allen, who has become a starter in the backcourt and has provided a shooting upgrade, will likely push DiVincenzo into a reserve role, but he remains valuable because of his defense and rebounding.

Bulls Notes: Vucevic, DeRozan, Caruso, Eversley 

Nikola Vucevic‘s 30-point outburst against the Hornets this week may be an indication that he’s settling into his new role with the Bulls, writes K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago. After years of being the first option in Orlando, Vucevic had to adjust to playing with a prolific scorer in Zach LaVine after he was traded at the March deadline. The adjustments continued after Chicago added DeMar DeRozan and Lonzo Ball in free agency.

Vucevic’s usage rate has hovered at about 22% since the season began. That’s down from 28.2% during his time with the Bulls last season and is significantly lower than what it used to be with the Magic. He acknowledged that he’s still figuring out his new role on offense.

“I was the main guy in Orlando for years and the ball was always with me. I knew I was going to get my shots regardless of how the game was going. Now it’s a little different,” Vucevic said. “We have more talent and more guys on the ball. Just have to find my spots and make sure I don’t get in their way and also for them to get used to playing with a big man like me.”

There’s more from Chicago:

  • DeRozan has taken over the role of closing out games since joining the Bulls, writes Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic. He’s leading the NBA with an average of 7.5 points in the fourth quarter of games and scoring clutch baskets when the team needs them most. “It just makes everything so much easier,” LaVine said. “Not all the pressure is on you. I have a bailout anytime, and I think I can speak for him; vice versa. Just being able to give it to him in certain areas, or just the ultimate trust of sometimes just giving him the ball and getting out the way, and ‘I’ll be here if you need me.’” 
  • Alex Caruso‘s gritty style of play feels much more at home in Chicago than it did in Los Angeles, observes Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times. Caruso has transformed the Bulls’ defense and leads the league in both steals and deflections per game. “The stuff that I do isn’t always glamorous,” he said. “It doesn’t always get highlighted. You might have seen a dunk or two over the years, like a pass to LeBron (James) or (Anthony Davis), but the stuff I do isn’t sexy. It’s stuff that wins basketball games.”
  • Bulls general manager Marc Eversley has been mentioned as a possible replacement for Neil Olshey with the Trail Blazers, but he remains focused on his current team and the talk is likely just speculation, Cowley tweets.