Nikola Vucevic

Central Notes: Ball, Clarkson, Bogdanovic, Livers, Vucevic, Caruso

There’s confidence that Bulls point guard Lonzo Ball will return at some point this season, Shams Charania of The Athletic tweets.

Ball underwent another left knee surgery on Wednesday and doctors are optimistic the issue has been fully addressed. However, he’s going to be out a number of months, Charania adds.

Ball was still unable to “run or jump” entering training camp despite a lengthy rehab from two previous procedures this year.

We have more from the Central Division:

  • The Bucks showed a lot of interest in trading for the Jazz‘s Jordan Clarkson but the Jazz balked at Milwaukee’s proposal, Tony Jones of The Athletic said on the Bill Riley Show podcast (hat tip to HoopsHype). Utah was uninterested at taking back George Hill‘s contract, which Jones described as a non-starter in trade discussions. One of the league’s top scoring reserves, Clarkson averaged 16 points last season. He has two years left on his four-year, $51.52MM contract. Hill has an expiring $4MM contract, so Milwaukee would have still needed to send out more salary in a potential trade.
  • The Lakers and Suns were among the teams reportedly pursuing Bojan Bogdanovic but he wound up getting traded to the Pistons. The former Jazz forward says he wasn’t concerned where he ended up, according to Keith Langlois of Pistons.com“I didn’t have any preference,” Bogdanovic said. “There’s a lot of rumors. Who knows if that’s true or not? I’m super happy and excited to be part of the Pistons.”
  • Pistons forward Isaiah Livers wound up playing 19 games during his rookie season after recovering from a foot injury. He’s aiming to become a regular part of the rotation this season, he told James Edwards III of The Athletic. “I wanted to build off those last 19, 20 games,” the 2021 second-round pick said. “Coaches and everyone seemed to love the way that I was playing. It was working effectively.”
  • There was heavy speculation that Bulls center Nikola Vucevic would be part of a package to acquire Rudy Gobert during the offseason. Vucevic had serious doubts that would happen and was proven correct when Gobert was dealt to Minnesota, Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times writes. “Rumors are a part of what we do,’’ said Vucevic, who is on an expiring contract. “Whether they’re true or not, it’s out of my control. I focus on what I can control, and, in the end, I had some fun with [the Jazz rumors]. At no point did I feel it was going to happen.’’
  • Bulls guard Alex Caruso is one of the candidates to replace Ball in the starting lineup as he mends from his latest knee surgery, but that’s not Caruso’s focus, Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic writes. “It won’t be a conversation I’ll have with Billy (Donovan). He might have it with me depending on what we need,” Caruso said. “But I’ve always been team-first trying to win games. If that’s me starting basketball games then that’s what we’ll do. If that’s me coming off the bench, that’s fine too. I’ve always been I’d rather finish games than start games.

Central Notes: Hayes, Ball, Bucks, G League Trade

Killian Hayes has to make progress as a scorer to show the Pistons he should be part of their long-term plans, writes James L. Edwards III of The Athletic. After injuries limited him to 26 games as a rookie, Hayes bounced back to play in 66 last season, showing the defensive and passing skills that made him the No. 7 overall pick in 2020.

However, his scoring development remained stagnant as he averaged 6.9 PPG in 25 minutes per night while shooting 38.3% from the field and 26.3% from three-point range. Edwards believes Hayes needs to become more aggressive in getting to the basket, noting that he made 74% of his attempts at the rim last season, but that only accounted for 16% of his shots.

Edwards poses questions involving other Pistons players, asking whether Isaiah Stewart has become a legitimate three-point shooter, whether Saddiq Bey can balance his performance from his first two seasons and whether Saben Lee can find a way to stand out on a roster loaded with guards.

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • Lonzo Ball tops a list of Bulls players with the most to prove compiled by Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic. Ball may be held out through the start of the regular season because of pain in his surgically repaired left knee. The Bulls insist the knee is structurally sound, but his availability will play a massive role in where the team finishes in the Eastern Conference. Mayberry adds that the team also needs a bounce-back performance from center Nikola Vucevic, who’s heading into a contract year.
  • Unlike most of their competitors in the East, the Bucks didn’t make major changes this offseason and can rely on continuity as they make a run at another NBA title, per Yossi Gozlan of HoopsHype. Milwaukee still has the defensive foundation to contend for a championship, Gozlan adds, and Giannis Antetokounmpo remains one of the best players in the world. One financial concern that Gozlan points out is that the Bucks appear destined for the repeater tax next season, while Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez will both become unrestricted free agents in July if they don’t receive extensions.
  • In a press release, the Cleveland Charge – The Cavaliers‘ G League affiliate – announced the trade of Norvel Pelle and the Charge’s second-round pick to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants (the Pacers‘ affiliate) in exchange for Nate Hinton.

Bulls To Pursue Extension With Nikola Vucevic?

Nikola Vucevic and the Bulls will have initial discussions during training camp regarding a possible extension, according to Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.

A source told Cowley that both sides want him to remain with the team beyond the final year of his contract. Vucevic is heading into the last season of his front-loaded four-year, $100MM deal that he signed with Orlando. He’ll make $22MM in 2022/23.

Vucevic has been the subject of trade rumors for months. There was heavy speculation that he’d be part of a Rudy Gobert deal with Utah before the All-Star center was dealt to Minnesota. Extending Vucevic on a one-year deal with a player option for the 2024/25 season would make sense for both sides, Cowley speculates.

Chicago may simply have come to the conclusion that an upgrade at center may not be available.

The Bulls front office places a high value on the Vucevic’s professionalism, versatility and consistency. However, there’s no denying that the big man had a rather forgettable 2021/22 season. He averaged 17.6 PPG, his lowest since the 2017-18 season, and shot just 31.4% from 3-point range. He’s a 34.8% career shooter from distance.

In the previous season, when he was acquired by Chicago, he averaged 23.4 PPG and made 40% of his 3-pointers in 70 games between the Bulls and Magic. Cowley notes Vucevic’s touches have dipped after he was more of a focal point in Orlando’s scheme.

The biggest issue with Vucevic is his defensive shortcomings. He’s never been a shot blocker and he has difficulty in pick-and-roll situations. But Chicago was never truly whole last season due to injuries and Vucevic didn’t have the ability to build chemistry at both ends with the core group.

Zach LaVine Likely To Re-Sign With Bulls

Despite rumors that Zach LaVine plans to talk with other teams in free agency, the most likely scenario has him re-signing with the Bulls, writes Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report.

LaVine is expected to receive a new five-year contract valued at around $200MM, according to Fischer, who notes that the only significant point of contention is the status of the final year of the deal. It could be fully or partially guaranteed, or LaVine could be given a player option.

The Trail Blazers, Spurs, Hawks and Lakers are all expected to reach out to LaVine, but Fischer doesn’t believe any of those teams can provide the two-time All-Star with a better situation than what he has in Chicago. LaVine wants to be the sole focal point of the offense, which hasn’t happened since the Bulls added DeMar DeRozan last summer, but he wouldn’t get that in Portland, Atlanta or L.A. It’s something San Antonio could offer, but the Spurs aren’t among the top contenders in the West.

Upgrading the frontcourt will be an offseason priority in Chicago, according to Fischer. His sources say the team is listening to offers for Nikola Vucevic, who has a $22MM expiring contract, and has expressed interest in Jazz center Rudy Gobert, although the club’s  reluctance to part with Patrick Williams may prevent a deal from being worked out with Utah.

The Bulls are also exploring trades involving third-year point guard Coby White, who will be eligible for a rookie scale extension, and the No. 18 pick in next week’s draft, Fischer adds.

FA/Trade Rumors: Ayton, Centers, Turner, Beal, Saric, Lakers

Echoing comments made last week by Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report, Marc Stein writes in his latest Substack article that Suns center Deandre Ayton – a restricted free agent this summer – may be the biggest name to change teams in the coming weeks.

Phoenix is “increasingly expected” to explore sign-and-trade scenarios involving Ayton, according to Stein, who says there’s plenty of skepticism around the NBA about the team’s desire to make a significant financial commitment to the young center.

Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report conveys a similar sentiment in his latest round-up of NBA rumors, suggesting there’s “considerable skepticism” that the Suns will re-sign Ayton. The Pistons, Spurs, Trail Blazers, Hawks, and Raptors have all been mentioned as possible suitors for the former No. 1 overall pick, Stein notes.

Here are a few more updates from Stein and Pincus on some of this year’s top free agents and trade candidates:

  • According to Pincus, some sources believe that the Spurs (Jakob Poeltl), Bulls (Nikola Vucevic), Hawks (Clint Capela/John Collins), and Pacers (Myles Turner) are among the teams that could be willing to move their current centers in a package for one of the offseason’s top available big men (Ayton, Rudy Gobert, etc.). Grizzlies center Steven Adams also may be a summer trade candidate, though he’s well-liked in the locker room, says Pincus.
  • While both Pincus and Stein have talked to sources who believe the Pacers are likely to keep Myles Turner, Stein notes that the situation could change if the big man wants to play out his expiring contract rather than agreeing to an extension, since Indiana may not want to risk losing him for nothing next year.
  • According to Stein, one or two teams hopeful of landing Bradley Beal believe the All-Star guard wants to be the Dirk Nowitzki of D.C., sticking with the Wizards for his entire career.
  • While Dario Saric‘s $9.24MM expiring contract makes him an obvious trade candidate, Pincus writes that the Suns are hopeful the forward can return to form after missing last season due to an ACL tear, and may not be looking to move him.
  • If the Lakers have any hope of trading Russell Westbrook without including a first-round pick, they’ll likely have to take on at least one or two players earning $15-25MM annually on multiyear deals, Pincus writes, citing veterans like Davis Bertans and Duncan Robinson as hypothetical examples. Rival executives and agents don’t expect the Lakers to get clarity from LeBron James on his long-term intentions before the draft or free agency, which will complicate L.A.’s decision-making process — the team would be more comfortable taking on pricey multiyear contracts with a guarantee that LeBron is sticking around long-term, Pincus observes.

Central Notes: Mathurin, Daniels, Beauchamp, Pistons, Vucevic

Sitting at No. 6 in the draft order, the Pacers have some projected lottery picks coming in on Friday, Scott Agness of Fieldhouse Files tweets.

Arizona’s Bennedict Mathurin, ranked No. 8 on ESPN’s Best Available list, is visiting the Pacers for a solo workout. G League Elite’s Dyson Daniels (No. 6) and Baylor’s Jeremy Sochan (No. 15) are among a group of six players coming in earlier on Friday. Kameron McGusty (Miami), Ziga Samar (Urbas Fuenlabrada), Jermaine Samuels (Villanova) and Pavel Savkov (Iraurgi SB) will join that duo.

We have more from the Central Division:

  • The Cavaliers, who hold the No. 14 selection, took a look at G League Ignite wing and potential lottery pick MarJon Beauchamp on Wednesday, according to Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Potential second-rounder Alabama’s Keon Ellis visited the same day. Wagner’s Alex Morales also had a workout with the Cavs on Wednesday, Adam Zagoria of ZagsBlog.com tweets. Florida State forward Malik Osborne worked out there on Tuesday, Bosco Institute tweets.
  • Don’t expect the Pistons to try to move into the top three of the draft to snare one of the top bigs, James Edwards III of The Athletic speculates. Edwards doubts the franchise would surrender young assets at this stage of the rebuild. He anticipates the Pistons would have to part with at least Saddiq Bey or Isaiah Stewart along with the No. 5 pick to move up a couple of spots and that doesn’t make much sense unless they’re getting a surefire superstar in return.
  • While rumors are swirling that the Bulls may part with Nikola Vucevic, Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic is somewhat skeptical Chicago is eager to move on from its starting center. Vucevic still has supporters in high places in Chicago due to his professionalism, versatility and consistency. If the Bulls do trade Vucevic, they’ll have to receive an obvious upgrade in return.

Fischer’s Latest: Gobert, Jazz, Bulls, P. Williams, Snyder, Spurs

Confirming a pair of earlier reports, Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report states that the Jazz haven’t entertained inquiries on Donovan Mitchell, but have been willing to engage in talks involving Rudy Gobert, with the Bulls among the potential suitors for the three-time Defensive Player of the Year.

According to Fischer, a Bulls offer for Gobert would – as expected – start with center Nikola Vucevic. The “popular package” discussed by various league executives would also include Patrick Williams, according to Fischer, who notes that the Jazz have long been seeking a wing defender like the former No. 4 overall pick.

However, as Fischer writes, the Bulls weren’t interested in discussing Williams during in-season trade talks for Jerami Grant, so it remains to be seen how open they’d be to including him in an offer for Gobert. If Williams is off the table, adding Coby White and Javonte Green would work from a salary-matching perspective, Fischer observes, but presumably the Jazz would be seeking a more substantial return for one of their two All-Stars.

Here’s more from Fischer:

  • The Jazz offered Quin Snyder a variety of contract structures in an effort to keep him in Utah, but those offers were rebuffed, with Snyder deciding it was time to move on. The expectation in league circles is that Snyder – who is highly regarded by Spurs CEO R.C. Buford – would be the leading candidate for the coaching job in San Antonio when Gregg Popovich steps down, says Fischer.
  • The Jazz are still working on their list of head coaching targets and will begin to formally reach out to candidates in the coming days, according to Fischer. One of the names included in the team’s preliminary list of candidates was Terry Stotts, who has the same representation as Snyder and spent several weeks around the Jazz in 2021/22, Fischer notes.
  • While there’s some skepticism around the NBA about how much Jazz CEO Danny Ainge will cater to Donovan Mitchell, Ainge isn’t viewed as someone who “scours the market of the NBA’s up-and-coming head coaches,” Fischer writes. In other words, if Mitchell and team owner Ryan Smith both want to bring in former Jazz assistant Johnnie Bryant as Snyder’s replacement, Ainge likely wouldn’t stand in the way, sources tell Fischer.

Bulls Reportedly Eyeing Rudy Gobert, Other Centers

The Bulls are among the teams with interest in Jazz center Rudy Gobert, according to Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer. O’Connor reports that Chicago has its eye on a number of centers who could be available this offseason, including unrestricted free agent Mitchell Robinson.

Nikola Vucevic, the Bulls’ current starting center, is coming off a 2021/22 season in which he averaged 17.0 points and 11.0 rebounds per game on .473/.314/.760 shooting in 73 games (33.1 MPG). That scoring average was Vucevic’s lowest since 2017/18, though that was largely about him taking on a complementary offensive role in Chicago alongside Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan after a few years of being the go-to guy in Orlando.

If the Bulls were to make a play for Gobert, Vucevic would almost certainly have to be included in their trade offer, both for salary-matching purposes and due to their on-court incompatibility.

Gobert, of course, is a much better defender than Vucevic and less of an offensive weapon, which might be a better fit for the Bulls, especially if LaVine is re-signed. However, Gobert also represents the far more significant financial commitment — he’s under contract for nearly $170MM over the next four years, while Vucevic will have a $22MM expiring deal.

If the Bulls hang onto Vucevic this offseason, they’ll likely pursue a more affordable backup center. It’s unclear if a free agent like Robinson would be willing to accept such a role, but perhaps he’d be intrigued by the opportunity if there’s a potential path to a larger role after Vucevic’s contract expires. The Bulls will also have the option of negotiating an extension with Vucevic.

Chicago will be over the cap this offseason, assuming LaVine returns, but should have the full mid-level exception available to offer potential free agent targets.

O’Connor adds that he has also heard the rumblings – previously relayed by Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report – that the Raptors have interest in Gobert.

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.”