Nikola Vucevic

Bulls Notes: Roster Turnover, LaVine, Markkanen, Ball

The Bulls were among the most active teams at the trade deadline, adding five new players to their roster, but so far the changes haven’t worked out the way they hoped, writes K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports. Chicago has gone just 3-7 since then while playing a difficult schedule that featured nine road games and seven against playoff contenders.

“Every night we have one category I would say we don’t perform well,” said center Daniel Theis, who was one of the new additions. “One night it’s turnovers that cost us a game. (Sunday), we didn’t get to the line a lot. (Monday), we didn’t shoot the ball well from 3. Now we’ve got to put together a complete game. If we play defense like (Monday) and we make our shots, we’re gonna win games.”

There’s more from Chicago:

  • Before the Bulls hosted Orlando tonight, Magic coach Steve Clifford talked to his former center, Nikola Vucevic, about the adjustment to a new team, tweets Josh Robbins of The Athletic. “He’s getting comfortable here (with Chicago),” Clifford said. “I think it’ll be a great place for him. He’s very upbeat, very excited about his teammates … loves (Bulls coach) Billy (Donovan).”
  • The decision to trade for Vucevic was a way for the Bulls’ front office to show Zach LaVine that they’re serious about winning, according to A. Sherrod Blakely of Bleacher Report. LaVine is widely expected to turn down an extension offer from Chicago in order to sign a more lucrative deal as a free agent, Blakely says.
  • The addition of Vucevic has cut into Lauri Markkanen‘s playing time and there’s reason to question whether he’ll return next season, Blakely adds. Vucevic and Markkanen both excel as scorers, but haven’t been effective as a defensive combo. “In the right kind of system, Markkanen could be a really good player,” an Eastern Conference executive told Blakely. “I don’t know if Chicago is it; it’s certainly not it if they think him and Vucevic can play together.” The Spurs may make a strong effort to sign Markkanen this summer, according to Blakely.
  • The Knicks are eyeing Pelicans guard Lonzo Ball in free agency and their main competition could come from the Bulls, sources tell Marc Berman of The New York Post. Chicago was involved in trade talks regarding Ball at last month’s deadline.

Bulls Trade Didn’t Take Vucevic By Surprise

Former Magic center Nikola Vucevic was aware that he could be dealt prior to the blockbuster than sent the All-Star big man from Orlando to Chicago, he told Alex Kennedy of Basketball News in a Q&A session.

“It wasn’t out of nowhere, we’d had discussions prior to it, so it was kind of mutual; it wasn’t just out of nowhere,” Vucevic said. “They pretty much just let me know that the trade was happening and said, ‘You’re going to Chicago.’ Honestly, even though I had an idea that it could happen, it was still a big shock to me.”

The Bulls are 3-5 in games that Vucevic has played since the deal. He’s averaging 22.9 PPG, 10.3 RPG and 3.6 APG for Chicago, which currently holds the 10th spot in the Eastern Conference, the last postseason berth under the new play-in format.

Vucevic had more than an inkling that he could be headed to the Bulls.

“I knew that there were a couple (of interested teams), but I didn’t know where I’d land or all of the details because that’s something that the front office was handling,” he said. “But I knew of the teams that were interested; I knew that part.”

Here’s more from Kennedy’s interview with Vucevic:

  • Vucevic is impressed by the Bulls’ roster and believes they’ll be contenders in short order.  “That’s one thing I’m very excited about: the team has great potential. It has very good structure, and we’re built to be successful for years to come, which is very important in this league. “
  • Vucevic played with some talented guards in Orlando over the years but he says Zach LaVine is better than any of them. “I’ve never played with anyone who’s as good of a scorer as Zach is, so I think it’s going to be great for me to have a guy like that on the ball a lot. In some of the games, it’s shown already in some of our two-man game action, although we haven’t played together a lot. It’s going to be hard to defend.
  • Vucevic believes that the trade showed potential free agents that Chicago is intent on becoming relevant again in the East. “I think by making these moves, the Bulls already sent a strong message to the rest of the league that they really want to win now, but making the playoffs would send a strong message, too. And when you make that step and have some success, it also attracts other people to want to play for a team like that.”

Central Notes: Nance, Bey, Vucevic, Bulls

Cavaliers big man Larry Nance Jr. hasn’t suited up for the team since March 27, but he’s starting to feel better after having dealt with an undetermined illness that caused rapid weight loss and left him bedridden, sources tell Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com.

None of the tests that Nance was administered in an attempt to identify his illness have come back positive, including COVID-19 tests, writes Fedor. A source tells Cleveland.com that the 28-year-old lost nearly 20 pounds and had a hard time keeping food down while he battled the illness.

Although Nance is improving, he’ll miss Thursday’s game and may not play on Saturday or Sunday either, according to Fedor, who says the training staff wants him to regain some of his lost weight and build his stamina back up before he returns to game action.

Here’s more from around the Central:

  • Following Saddiq Bey‘s 25-point showing on Tuesday in Denver, Pistons head coach Dwane Casey reiterated a point that he and GM Troy Weaver have made before, referring to the rookie as a long-term keeper.He’s an NBA starter for us and part of our building blocks,” Casey said of the young forward (Twitter link via Rod Beard of The Detroit News). Detroit gave up Luke Kennard and several second-round picks to land Bey in the 2020 draft.
  • In his early days with the Bulls, Nikola Vucevic is looking like the sidekick that Zach LaVine and the club have long needed, writes Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic.
  • While he’s not particularly high on the team’s playoff chances this season, Michael Pina of SI.com makes the case for why the Bulls‘ future looks bright. Meanwhile, K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago fields a number of questions on the Bulls’ future in his latest mailbag, suggesting that Coby White still looks like part of the long-term core, even if the club is likely to pursue a point guard in the offseason.

Southeast Notes: Oladipo, Vucevic, Collins, Hutchison

Victor Oladipo‘s defense is an underrated component of why the Heat targeted him in a trade with the Rockets, writes Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald. Players guarded by Oladipo are shooting just 40.5% this season, far under their normal 46% rate. That ranks second in the league among shooting guards. Among Miami’s current backcourt, the defensive rates are 43.3% for Tyler Herro, 43.8% for Goran Dragic and 45.8% for Kendrick Nunn.

Oladipo is still a productive scorer, averaging 20.3 PPG this season, but his efficiency and three-point shooting have fallen off from his peak years. He also hasn’t played on back-to-back nights yet this season.

“Houston wasn’t the best situation for him,” a Western Conference scout told Jackson. “He had moments where he played very, very well, and I think with more veteran players around him, he will be fine. I’m not so sure how much he wanted to make it work in Houston. This is what Victor has talked about over a year, going to Miami. There will be a lot more buy-in, a lot more want-to. This is what he wanted. He had no three-point shooting around him in Houston. He’ll have that in Miami, at least guys who should be that. Opposing teams will say Oladipo is not the same until he scorches somebody.”

There’s more from the Southeast Division:

  • Before making his debut with the Bulls Saturday night, Nikola Vucevic offered an emotional message to Orlando, where he spent the past nine years, relays Josh Robbins of The Athletic. “Obviously, it meant a lot to me,” the All-Star center said. “Like I said, I came there as a kid and left as a man. I guess you guys know the answer with my reaction. Leaving that place after so many years obviously was hard.” Vucevic said he knew the Magic were shopping him and he wasn’t surprised when the deal with Chicago was announced.
  • Hawks forward John Collins was “super-duper relieved” to remain with the team through the trade deadline, according to Sarah K. Spencer of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Collins’ future has been up for speculation since he failed to reach an extension during the offseason, and he’s now on the way to becoming a restricted free agent.
  • Wizards forward Chandler Hutchison, who was acquired from the Bulls on Thursday, won’t play for his new team until he participates in a full practice, tweets Ava Wallace of The Washington Post. Chicago had been listing Hutchison as out indefinitely for personal reasons, and he hasn’t been in a game since February 5. However, he told Wallace his conditioning is “off the charts.”

Bulls Notes: Vucevic, Aminu, Theis, Markkanen

Nikola Vucevic and Zach LaVine have been All-Star teammates, but Thursday’s trade that brought the veteran center to Chicago has made them the core of a Bulls team that hopes to make some noise in the playoffs, writes K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago. Vucevic believes he and LaVine can eventually become an effective combination.

“He’s a hell of a player, and I’ve heard a lot of great things about him off the court as well. I’m looking forward to getting to know him. On the court, I think our games fit each other,” Vucevic said. “A lot that Zach likes to do, I can help him with that. He can help me with a lot of things. I think our two-man game can be very good. It’s going to take some time for us to get to know each other and build that chemistry. But I think when you have two high-caliber players and players with high IQ that know how to play the game and play to win, I think it won’t take us long.”

There’s more from Chicago:

  • Al-Farouq Aminu, who was acquired from Orlando in the same deal, will bring a veteran presence to a young squad, notes Rob Schaefer of NBC Sports. The 30-year-old forward, who is joining his sixth team in an 11-year career, is ready to adopt a leadership role. “Everybody don’t want the voice always coming from the head coach or the coaches or whatever the case might be,” Aminu told reporters after this morning’s shootaround. “At the end of the day, we the guys out there. And we can explain what to younger players exactly needs to be done and how it needs to be done.”
  • The Bulls overhauled their roster Thursday, bringing in five new players through trades. They were all available for tonight’s game except for former Celtics center Daniel Theis, who is wrapping up family issues and will join the team by Monday, according to Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times. Coach Billy Donovan faces the challenge of trying to reshape his team over the final 29 games without much time to practice. “You obviously try to probably shrink a lot of things playbook-wise, try to create some clarity defensively for those guys,” Donovan said. “… All those guys were probably in some kind of system or playing with very familiar faces, and that all of a sudden has changed, not only for them but for the guys who are currently here. We have a lot to work through.’’
  • The Bulls opted to hold on to Lauri Markkanen, who is on track for restricted free agency this summer, and now he has to prove he can fit in with the new-look team, Cowley adds in a separate piece.

Eastern Notes: Celtics, Vucevic, Heat, Pacers, Wizards

One of the NBA’s most reliable trade-deadline traditions is hearing after the fact which big-name players the Celtics came close to acquiring. Although Boston was active at this year’s deadline, adding Evan Fournier in one deal and moving Daniel Theis in another, the team didn’t let that annual tradition fall by the wayside.

League sources tell Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe that the Celtics were a finalist in the Nikola Vucevic sweepstakes, having included multiple first-round picks in their offer to Orlando before the big man was sent to Chicago.

Additionally, Himmelsbach reports that the Celtics offered a first-round pick and a young player (believed to be Aaron Nesmith) to Orlando for Aaron Gordon, and were prepared to increase that offer, but the Magic accepted Denver’s offer before Boston had a chance to do so.

Here’s more from around the Eastern Conference:

  • Another post-deadline tradition? Teams insisting they didn’t offer players whose names were repeatedly mentioned in trade rumors. The Heat did that today, issuing a statement stating that they never offered Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, and Precious Achiuwa in any deals. “They were asked for, but an offer was never made,” the team said, per Ira Winderman of The South Florida Sun Sentinel. While the Heat’s reluctance to part with Herro was widely reported, at least one of Robinson or Achiuwa – and perhaps both – would’ve had to be included in any viable package for Kyle Lowry, so saying they were “never offered” is likely just a matter of semantics.
  • Although they were the subject of several trade rumors prior to the deadline, the Pacers were one of the few teams to stand pat. According to J. Michael of The Indianapolis Star (subscription required), that inactivity can be attributed in large part to the team’s belief in Caris LeVert. Indiana, encouraged by the early returns, is satisfied letting LeVert get back up to speed and seeing how he meshes with the club’s current core.
  • Addressing the Wizards‘ acquisition of Daniel Gafford, general manager Tommy Sheppard cited the youngster’s shot-blocking ability and athleticism, as Ava Wallace of The Washington Post relays.

Jeff Weltman Discusses Magic’s Deadline-Day Trades

Speaking today to reporters following an eventful trade deadline, Magic president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman said that he believed the team could be a top-four seed in the East entering the season.

That may sound bullish, but considering the 22-21 Hornets currently rank fourth in the conference, it certainly wouldn’t have been out of the question. However, after a 6-2 start, injuries decimated Orlando’s roster, ultimately forcing a change of direction (Twitter link via Keith Smith of RealGM).

As Weltman explained today, the Magic still considered trying to make win-now moves to improve this year’s roster, but when they realized that there would be more buyers than sellers, that helped guide their direction (Twitter links via Smith). The club also had to come to terms with the fact that it didn’t have a championship-level roster and had no clear path to get there with the existing core, Smith tweets.

Orlando ended up moving Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier, and Aaron Gordon in three separate deals on Thursday. Without those veterans on the roster, the 15-29 Magic, who already have the fourth-worst record in the NBA, are in position to nab a high pick in the 2021 NBA draft, which Weltman acknowledged.

You win with stars in this league. We’re in position to add talent through the draft” he said, per Smith (Twitter link). “We’re not focusing on that too much because it’s not something we have full control over. But we’re in a good position for this year’s draft.”

Here’s more from Weltman on the Magic:

  • According to Weltman, the Nuggets were initially hesitant to include R.J. Hampton in their offer for Gordon, but those talks gained traction once Denver relented (Twitter link via Roy Parry of The Orlando Sentinel). I can’t tell you how excited we are about him,” Weltman said, adding that he believes Hampton can play alongside Markelle Fultz and Cole Anthony (Twitter link via Smith).
  • Asked if he felt the Magic got a strong enough return for Vucevic, Weltman replied, “Obviously we thought we got enough, because we did the deal.” He also pointed out that the Magic were on the receiving end of the only three first-round picks that changed hands on Thursday, and said the team has received “glowing reports” on Wendell Carter (Twitter links via Smith).
  • Although the Magic valued Fournier’s Bird rights, they felt as if it didn’t make sense to trade Vucevic and Gordon while hanging onto Fournier, and decided to take the best offer available, per Weltman (Twitter link via Smith).

Magic Trade Nikola Vucevic To Bulls

4:37pm: The trade sending Vucevic to Chicago is official, according to a press release from the Magic.

“Anytime you trade a player like Nikola, it is a tough decision to make,” president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman said in a statement. “‘Vooch’ will go down as one of the best players to ever wear a Magic uniform and we can’t thank him enough for all the contributions he made to the organization, both on and off the court.”


10:05am: The Magic are trading All-Star center Nikola Vucevic and veteran forward Al-Farouq Aminu to the Bulls, reports ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (all Twitter links).

According to Wojnarowski, Orlando will receive Wendell Carter, Otto Porter, and a pair of future first-round picks in the deal. Those picks will be the Bulls’ own 2021 and 2023 first-rounders, Woj adds (via Twitter). Both will be top-four protected, per Shams Charania of The Athletic and K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago (Twitter links).

The agreement comes as a major surprise. While Vucevic has been mentioned in some trade rumors in the weeks leading up to the deadline, he had talked about being happy with his current situation, and there was a belief that the Magic were reluctant to move their lone All-Star and shift into full-fledged retooling mode. Wojnarowski (Twitter link) had reported earlier today that Orlando was still listening to offers for the big man, but would have to receive a substantial package to pull the trigger on a deal.

The Magic apparently believe the Bulls’ offer qualifies as substantial. In addition to the future first-round picks, which are the prized assets in the return, Orlando will also receive a former lottery pick in Carter who was highly regarded coming out of Duke and is still just 21 years old. Carter has been plagued by injury issues through his first three NBA seasons and his production hasn’t really increased since his rookie year, but he’s still viewed as a player with upside.

Orlando will also gain some longer-term salary relief in the trade. While Porter is earning more ($28.5MM) this season than any of the other three players involved in the swap, his contract will expire this summer. Vucevic is owed and Aminu are owed a combined $34MM+ next season, and Vucevic is under contract for one more year beyond that, so the Magic will have much more cap flexibility going forward.

The move also signals that Aaron Gordon is even more likely to be dealt today, with the Magic headed for a reset. The odds of the team moving Evan Fournier and/or Terrence Ross figure to increase as well. As Keith Smith of Yahoo Sports tweets, Orlando will boost the odds of landing a top pick in the 2021 draft by trading away veterans — that lottery pick, combined with the return of Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz next season, could help accelerate the team’s rebuild.

The Bulls, meanwhile, weren’t among the teams listed as having significant interest in Vucevic in a report earlier this month, but decided to take a big swing and will add a second All-Star to a core headlined by Zach LaVine.

The team’s front office wanted to bring in a “productive, serious-minded veteran” to be a cornerstone in Chicago, according to Wojnarowski (Twitter link), and zeroed in on Vucevic, who has posted a career-high 24.5 PPG this season to go along with 11.8 RPG and 3.8 APG. His .406 3PT% is also a career-best mark.

Taking on Aminu’s multiyear contract will add some money to the Bulls’ cap in 2021, but the club was projected to have plenty of flexibility, so that shouldn’t be an issue. Vucevic’s contract is also relatively team-friendly — he’s making $26MM this season, but that number will decline to $24MM in 2021/22 and $22MM in ’22/23.

It will be interesting to see whether the Bulls have more up their sleeve before today’s deadline. The team has been taking calls to gauge Thaddeus Young‘s value, per Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times (Twitter link), and remains in the mix for Pelicans point guard Lonzo Ball, according to Wojnarowski (Twitter link).

It will take more than just Lauri Markkanen to acquire Ball, tweets Johnson. New Orleans may want Chicago to take on an unwanted multiyear contract, such as Eric Bledsoe‘s.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Fischer’s Latest: Gordon, Vucevic, Lowry, Redick, Ball, DeRozan

On the eve of the trade deadline, the Nuggets have become the favorites to pry Aaron Gordon away from the Magic, league sources tell Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report. Denver’s offer would include guard Gary Harris, a first-round pick, and either R.J. Hampton, Zeke Nnaji or Bol Bol.

Although the Nuggets seem to have the momentum, the Celtics are still “very engaged” in the process, according to Fischer. Boston’s proposed deal has involved Marcus Smart and a first-rounder, and it’s possible that a second first-round pick and the Celtics’ $28.5MM traded player exception could be used as well, with Evan Fournier also headed to Boston, says Fischer. Previous reports indicated that the C’s were looking to keep Smart out of the deal, offering a younger player in his place.

The Timberwolves, Rockets and Trail Blazers all remain interested in acquiring Gordon too.

Fischer passes on a few more trade rumors as the deadline draws near:

  • The Celtics are one of the few teams to express interest in trading for center Nikola Vucevic, but the Magic are putting a much higher price on him than Gordon. Orlando is asking for multiple first-round picks and a player who fits with their young core. Fischer expects Vucevic to stay with the Magic.
  • The Clippers, Lakers, Sixers and Heat are all still pursuing Kyle Lowry, but the Raptors‘ high price tag may prevent a deal from getting done. Fischer believes Philadelphia would have to offer two players from the group of Danny Green, Seth Curry and Tyrese Maxey, while Miami would need to part with Goran Dragic, another large salary and either Kendrick Nunn, Duncan Robinson or Tyler Herro. Both Los Angeles teams are limited by their lack of available draft picks.
  • J.J. Redick appears headed for a buyout as the Pelicans haven’t found a team willing to offer draft picks or prospects in return for the veteran guard. Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report suggests a return to the Sixers is possible or maybe a reunion with former teammate Chris Paul on the Suns.
  • The Knicks are interested in Lonzo Ball and have the cap space to keep him in free agency, Pincus adds. The price could be Frank Ntilikina, Kevin Knox and possibly the Mavericks’ 2021 first-round pick.
  • Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan is also high on the Knicks‘ wish list, states A. Sherrod Blakely of Bleacher Report.

Lowe’s Latest: Wolves, Bulls, Bucks, Rivers, Vucevic, Nuggets, More

Timberwolves president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas has been extremely proactive in overhauling the club’s roster since taking control of the front office in 2019, and Minnesota figures to be a team worth watching again leading up to this Thursday’s trade deadline.

While the Wolves have been linked to potential trade targets like Aaron Gordon and John Collins, Zach Lowe of ESPN (Insider link) says it’s safe to assume that if there’s a power forward between the ages of 22 and 30 who could theoretically be available, Minnesota has inquired on him. Upgrading the four is a top priority for the team.

On the other hand, while the Wolves could be in the market for a win-now move, they’ve also signaled that they may be willing to trade some of their deeper rotation players for future draft picks, sources tell Lowe.

Lowe’s latest look at the trade market is worth checking out in full if you’re an ESPN+ subscriber. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Lowe’s sources believe the Bulls could get a first-round pick for Thaddeus Young, but they continue to signal that he’s not available. Chicago has also rebuffed inquires on rookie forward Patrick Williams.
  • The Bucks will peruse the trade and buyout markets for a backup guard after trading D.J. Augustin, and Lowe suggests Knicks guard Austin Rivers is a target to watch. Rivers is a buyout candidate if New York doesn’t trade him by Thursday afternoon.
  • Lowe believes a Nikola Vucevic trade is “very unlikely.” Jared Weiss and Sam Amick of The Athletic conveyed a similar sentiment today, writing that it might take a Jrue Holiday-esque return for the Magic to pull the trigger.
  • Other teams suggest the Nuggets have been active in search of a deal to upgrade their rotation, according to Lowe, who confirms Denver explored a move for P.J. Tucker before he was sent to Milwaukee.
  • While the Warriors aren’t feeling pressure to move Kelly Oubre, they’re exploring the market for him to see if there’s a deal that could help them more beyond this season, Lowe says.
  • Pacers sharpshooter Doug McDermott is drawing interest from several teams, sources tell ESPN.