Nikola Vucevic

Central Notes: Giannis, Turner, Sword, Bulls

Giannis Antetokounmpo isn’t directly threatening to leave the Bucks, but he hinted at that option this week during an appearance on the 48 Minutes podcast (YouTube video link). The two-time MVP said he enjoys playing in Milwaukee, but his priority is winning another championship and he’s willing to go elsewhere if he decides it’s necessary.

“I’m a Milwaukee Buck, but most importantly I’m a winner,” Antetokounmpo said. “… If there is a better situation for me to win the Larry O’Brien (trophy), I have to take that better situation.”

Antetokounmpo made similar comments last month, saying he would like to play 20 years with the same team, but “being a winner” is more important to him.

Antetokounmpo will become eligible for a five-year extension next summer that could be worth up to $334MM, which would be the largest contract in NBA history. He also holds a $51.9MM player option for 2025/26, so he’ll have the equivalent of an expiring contract for the following season if he doesn’t accept the extension.

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • Appearing on Tidal League’s “Run Your Race” podcast with Theo Pinson, Myles Turner expressed regret that he wasn’t ready to assume the role of team leader after the Pacers traded Paul George in 2017 (hat tip to FanSided). “The beginning of that year, I got hurt. I got a concussion,” Turner recalled. “I was out for like two and a half weeks. So I missed the first two and a half weeks of the season, (and) Vic (Victor Oladipo) was going crazy. Hitting game-winners. Averaging like 20 a game. Domas (Domantas Sabonis) was like 20 and 10.” Turner added that he’s grateful to get another chance to be a leader with the current version of the team.
  • The Pacers‘ G League affiliate has acquired returning player rights for guard Craig Sword. The Fort Wayne Mad Ants announced a deal with Capital City to land the rights to Sword, who played for the Warriors during Summer League.
  • Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic are considered stars under the NBA’s new Player Participation Policy, but the guidelines shouldn’t affect the Bulls very much, observes Julia Poe of the Chicago Tribune. She notes that the team doesn’t rely much on load management, with Vucevic and Patrick Williams both appearing in all 82 games last season, while LaVine played in 70 of the last 71 after working his way back from offseason knee surgery.

Bulls Notes: Vucevic, Ball, Carter, Hometown Players

Lonzo Ball‘s status was a distraction for the Bulls for much of last season, Nikola Vucevic admits in an interview with Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports. After being acquired during the 2021 offseason, Ball led Chicago to the top of the Eastern Conference in his first two months with the team, but he hasn’t played since because of a knee injury that has required three surgeries. Vucevic said the organization was counting on Ball’s return early last season, but complications kept pushing that back.

“It was kind of like, ‘Oh, when he comes back, it’s going to be fixed.’ Early on, it was, ‘Oh, six weeks,’ then, ‘Now it’s eight weeks,’ and then, ‘January’ and ‘Maybe playoffs.’ For us, it was tricky, because we kept waiting for him,” Vucevic recalled. “And now, at least we know he’s not there. We’ve got some new teammates, some good signings that will help us. And so now it’s on us as players to figure it out and find a way to have a better year.”

Ball and team officials have already stated that he won’t be available for the upcoming season after undergoing cartilage transplant surgery in March. Vucevic said he empathizes with his teammate as he tries to work his way back from the injury and handles the negative reaction from the public and the media.

“You feel for the guy. He’s such a good player. And to have to deal with all that, it’s very difficult,” Vucevic said. “I mean, he’s been very positive about it. He keeps trying to find ways to get back on the floor. There’s a lot of stuff people can’t see. You can’t see him do rehab. You can’t see all the stuff that he does to get back on the court.”

There’s more on the Bulls:

  • Vucevic is excited about Chicago’s roster additions, believing Torrey Craig and Jevon Carter will bring much-needed toughness on defense, Fischer adds. “Just guys that like to do the dirty work that doesn’t necessarily show up in the stat sheet, but is very important to the team,” Vucevic said. “We need those things badly.” 
  • Carter is the latest Chicago-area native to play for the Bulls, joining a list that includes Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, Ayo Dosunmu and Patrick Beverley, observes Jamal Collier of ESPN. Carter was a popular player at Bulls Fest, as fans were eager to interact with a player who grew up in the city. “When we can go out and get kids who can check a lot of boxes on the court, it’s definitely a bonus when they’re from Chicago,” general manager Marc Eversley said. “There’s just a certain pride that I think those kids wear on their chest. Anytime you can have a Chicago kid playing for the Chicago Bulls, (it) is a really, really special thing.”
  • Bucks writer Jim Owczarski of The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel appeared on the latest edition of Bulls Talk to discuss Carter’s role with the team and the challenge that former Bulls assistant Adrian Griffin faces as the new head coach in Milwaukee.

World Cup Notes: Australia, Africa, Clarkson, Vucevic

Australia is facing a must-win situation to stay alive for a World Cup medal, writes Olgun Uluc of ESPN. Sunday’s loss to Germany means the Boomers will have to get by host Japan on Tuesday to advance past the first round of pool play. It’s an unexpected position for a nation with numerous NBA players on its roster, and coach Brian Goorjian called out his team for a lack of focus.

“When I’m hard like that, is when the effort, the controllable stuff is off,” Goorjian said. “I just thought the first five minutes of the game, we had two or three guys on the floor asleep. Off defensively, rebounds, the schemes were a step off. I just needed that timeout to use my voice. Again, that’s really the only time I go off. It’s been very rare; I think that’s the first time since I’ve had them this year that I’ve had to do that.”

Goorjian may need to consider a lineup change to boost the team, Uluc adds. Josh Giddey has taken over as the play-maker, but he needs to be surrounded by outside shooters. Matisse Thybulle and Nick Kay haven’t been able to fill that role, allowing opponents to pack the paint. Uluc notes that Goorjian has considered starting Josh Green at forward, which may be necessary to change Australia’s fortunes.

There’s more from the World Cup:

  • Monday was a historic day for African basketball as two nations picked up their first-ever World Cup victories, per Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press. South Sudan defeated China and Cape Verde topped Venezuela, leaving both teams in contention for second-round berths and a possible spot in next year’s Olympics. “I’m still speechless,” Cape Verde’s Will Tavares said. “I feel like I’m in a dream right now, but the win was so big for us and our country and our families. We made a statement. Even though we’re the smallest country, we have so much heart.”
  • The Philippines is 0-2 with losses to the Dominican Republic and Angola, but Jordan Clarkson tells Cesare Milanti of Eurohoops that he’s grateful for the enthusiastic response from the Manila crowd. “It was fun, it was definitely amazing,” he said. “The turnout and the support were great. For us, being the host city is definitely felt. A lot of our games will be loud and packed out: we looking forward to those.”
  • In a Sportando interview, Nikola Vucevic says Montenegro feels like a legitimate contender after defeating Mexico and Egypt in its first two games.

Eastern Notes: Beverley, DeRozan, Bulls’ Schedule, Embiid, Knicks

It seems unlikely now that new Sixers point guard Patrick Beverley will play with James Harden in Philadelphia but he doesn’t blame Harden for being upset over his contract situation, Dave Early of relays. Beverley weighed in on the Harden saga on his Pat Bev Podcast With Rone.

“I don’t think it’s coming from a bad place. I think he understands exactly what he’s doing,” Beverley said. “And like I said it’s a tough one, ’cause I know both (Harden and Sixers executive Daryl Morey)…. I understand both guys…. it’s just so many pieces that we’re not educated about. But we do know there was something in place that didn’t go down and one man feels some type of way which he’s entitled to feel that way. So I’m not here for the bad James Harden press at all. … I hope I’m able to suit up and play with James Harden but from the way things are looking, [it’s] unfortunate.”

Beverley signed a one-year deal with the Sixers in July.

We have more from the Eastern Conference:

  • DeMar DeRozan ranks as the Bulls’ most valuable trade asset among the team’s core group of players, Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun Times opines. DeRozan, a highly-respected veteran scorer with an expiring contract, could be a hot property for a team with championship aspirations. Nikola Vucevic, despite the fact he signed an extension, could bring more in a deal at the trade deadline than Zach LaVine because of his more affordable contract, Cowley writes.
  • In a separate story, Cowley weighs in on five key games for the Bulls during this upcoming season. The last of the games on his list is the April 1 contest with the Hawks, who played three highly entertaining, hotly-contested games with Chicago last season.
  • The Knicks are one of many teams monitoring the Sixers’ situation and the possibility of Joel Embiid requesting a trade, Matt Ehalt of the New Yok Post writes. It would be an ideal scenario for the Knicks and New York’s top executive, Leon Rose, has the pieces and assets to trade for a superstar. Embiid, whom Rose represented early in the reigning MVP’s career, would immediately make the Knicks serious title contenders.

Bulls GM Says Keeping Nikola Vucevic Was “No. 1 Goal”

The Bulls were determined to re-sign their free agents this summer and center Nikola Vucevic was the top priority, general manager Marc Eversley told K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago.

Appearing on the Bulls Talk podcast, Eversley discussed the need for continuity, especially regarding Vucevic, who has been with Chicago since a trade deadline deal in 2021. Vucevic opted to forgo free agency and accepted a three-year, $60MM extension.

“I’m excited for Vooch,” Eversley said. “There’s not many starting centers in the NBA. So if Vooch were to go away, how would you replace him? Those options were just not appealing to us. So retaining him became the No. 1 goal of the offseason.”

Vucevic will turn 33 in October, but he’s coming off a productive season. He played 82 games for the first time in his career and averaged 17.6 points, 11.0 rebounds and 3.2 assists per night while shooting 52% from the floor and 34.9% from beyond the arc.

The Bulls also re-signed guards Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu, setting up a battle for playing time in a crowded backcourt. They added Jevon Carter and Torrey Craig as well to cap off a productive free agent session.

On the first night of free agency, White committed to a three-year, $36MM deal that could reach $40MM with incentives. He’s coming off the worst scoring season of his career at 9.7 PPG, but the Bulls are happy with other parts of his game.

“Coby White had, I thought, a terrific year last year. I think the growth he has shown over the last three years has been second to nobody on the roster,” Eversley said. “I think his ability to shoot (and) he’s much more comfortable handling it now. He doesn’t get pressured or panic anymore.

“He has found his voice in the locker room. He has become a quiet leader. We’ve seen growth and development from him. And that’s why it was critical to bring him back.”

Dosunmu, who started 51 games in his second NBA season, signed a three-year, $21MM contract as a restricted free agent. He earned second-team All-Rookie honors in 2022, but experienced a decline in his three-point shooting last season.

“He would not argue with me; he didn’t have quite the second year he thought he might’ve,” Eversley said. “Call it a sophomore slump. But we’ve seen him in the Advocate Center and how hard he has worked from the end of the season to today and there’s nothing but good things that are going to happen to him.”

Bulls Sign Nikola Vucevic To Three-Year Extension

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.

Like fellow big man Naz Reid, Vucevic had been extension-eligible this season, so he didn’t have to wait to reach the open market this weekend if his goal was to re-up with his current team.

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.

Trade Rumors: Wizards, Morris, George, Bridges, Nets, Bulls

Having agreed to acquire point guards Tyus Jones and Chris Paul in separate trades, the Wizards have begun talking to rival teams about Monte Morris, league sources tell Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports. According to Fischer, Washington’s front office – which has already been very active this offseason – is telling potential trade partners that the team doesn’t want to take on any long-term money.

It remains to be seen what the Wizards have in mind for Paul. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (YouTube link) said during a TV appearance earlier this week that he doesn’t get the sense that Washington is trying to “bottom out” by going into full tank mode, suggesting he can envision a scenario where Paul is on next season’s roster. However, that was before the team agreed to acquire Jones.

According to Fischer, the Wizards and Suns are tentatively planning for the Bradley Beal trade call to take place on Friday. It’s unclear whether Paul will be flipped to a new team as part of that deal or whether Washington’s three-team trade with Boston and Memphis might be folded into the same transaction.

Here are a few more trade rumors from around the NBA:

  • Andrew Greif and Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times provide a little more context on the recent Paul George trade rumors, suggesting that the Knicks initiated talks with the Clippers but are hesitant to pursue the star forward, who may seek an extension when he becomes eligible this offseason. There’s a sense that George’s value might not be as high as the Clippers would like, given his injury history and his contract situation, per The Times’ duo. A previous report indicated he’s unlikely to be dealt.
  • Rising star Mikal Bridges tells Brian Lewis of The New York Post that he has been informed by the Nets that they have no interest in trading him. The team has conveyed that stance both publicly and privately, according to Lewis. “As of right now they’re saying they’re not, but I think just being a good person kind of helps with that, because there’s just like you don’t want to lose a person like that, which is always a good quality to have,” Bridges said. “So, [I feel] just blessed, man; just blessed and very appreciative for that. And that just does show that love, honestly.”
  • In addition to offering four first-round picks for Bridges at the trade deadline, the Grizzlies are also said to have targeted Magic forward Franz Wagner in recent months, Fischer reports. Fischer refers to the team’s decision to surrender a pair of first-rounders for Marcus Smart as a “middle-ground” move after those more ambitious pursuits didn’t pan out.
  • While it doesn’t sound like Bridges will be going anywhere this offseason, the futures of fellow Nets forwards Dorian Finney-Smith and Royce O’Neale remain uncertain. According to Fischer, Brooklyn is seeking a first-round pick in return for O’Neale and wants a pick and a player for Finney-Smith.
  • It may end up being a quiet draft night for the Bulls, who don’t currently have a pick, but they’re still exploring ways to acquire a first-rounder, reports Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times. In other Bulls news, Cowley hears from sources that free-agent-to-be Nikola Vucevic may be willing to give Chicago a “hometown discount” on a new multiyear contract. The big man made $22MM this past season.

And-Ones: CBA Changes, Free Agents, Las Vegas, Holland

Players signed using the newly created cap exception for second-round picks that will be included in the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement won’t count against the cap until July 31, Keith Smith of Spotrac reports (Twitter links).

In the past, teams looking to maximize their cap room have sometimes put off signing their second-round picks, since those players don’t have a cap hold until they sign. However, as Smith explains, the new rule will allow those players to sign immediately without affecting a team’s cap space for the first month of free agency. That will allow them to fully participate with their new teams in Summer League play.

According to Smith, the second-round pick exception will allow teams to sign players to three- or four-year contracts with team options in the final season. It will also give second-round draftees the opportunity to earn more than the rookie minimum in the first season (for three-year deals) or in the first two seasons (for four-year deals).

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

  • Yossi Gozlan of HoopsHype has another minor update on the new CBA, tweeting that the extend-and-trade restrictions will be loosened beginning in 2024 to allow for an extra year and a higher salary. Currently, an extension-eligible player who is traded must wait six months to sign a new deal that places him under contract for more than three total seasons (including his current deal) or features more than a 5% raise.
  • John Hollinger of The Athletic shared his top free agent point guards, shooting guards, small forwards, power forwards, and centers based on his BORD$ formula. Among Hollinger’s most interesting rankings? Nikola Vucevic at sixth among centers, one spot behind Dwight Powell; and Rui Hachimura at 14th among power forwards, behind players like Trey Lyles and Oshae Brissett.
  • Sports and entertainment venue developer Tim Leiweke, the CEO of Oak View Group, spoke last week about his plans to build a 20,000 seat, NBA-ready arena as part of a massive Las Vegas development project that has a $10 billion budget and will be entirely privately financed. Howard Stutz of The Nevada Independent has the story, including the quotes from Leiweke.
  • Five-star recruit Ron Holland has officially signed with the G League Ignite, according to a press release from the team. We first covered Holland’s commitment to the Ignite last month.

Scotto’s Latest: VanVleet, Anunoby, Middleton, DiVincenzo, G. Williams

New head coach Ime Udoka’s desire to land a veteran point guard makes the Rockets a strong contender for Fred VanVleet in free agency, sources tell Michael Scotto of HoopsHype. Houston will be part of a large group of teams expected to pursue VanVleet, who remains open to re-signing with the Raptors, Scotto adds.

The Suns expressed interest in VanVleet the last time he was a free agent, Scotto notes. Chris Paul appears to be on the way out of Phoenix, as Scotto’s sources say the team has discussed a number of trade scenarios, including a proposed deal reported Saturday that would send him to Washington as part of a package for Bradley Beal.

The Lakers would also like to add VanVleet, according to Scotto, but would probably need to work out a sign-and-trade with the Raptors to make it happen. That would require Toronto to have interest in D’Angelo Russell, who is also a free agent.

VanVleet has also been linked to the Magic because president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman previously worked in Toronto, but Scotto cites skepticism that Orlando is ready to make a big free agent move while the core of the team is still young.

Scotto passes along more inside information:

  • The Grizzlies are a team to watch if the Raptors decide to part with OG Anunoby, Scotto states. Memphis is offering future first-round draft picks to add a wing player, according to Scotto’s sources, and Anunoby would be an attractive target if he becomes available. Scotto notes that the Grizzlies were willing to give four first-round picks to Brooklyn in February for Mikal Bridges, and the need for wing help has increased with Dillon Brooks not expected back next season.
  • League executives tell Scotto that they expect Khris Middleton to re-sign with the Bucks for about $130MM over four years if he turns down his $40.4MM player option. Milwaukee is hoping to re-sign Brook Lopez as well, Scotto adds, but the veteran center will likely get an offer from the Rockets.
  • Donte DiVincenzo is expected to turn down his $4.7MM player option and receive better offers than the Warriors can match. One executive told Scotto that DiVincenzo is likely to be offered the non-taxpayer mid-level exception, which is well above the four-year, $23.2MM deal that Golden State can give him due to cap restrictions. Scotto hears that the Warriors have also received interest in Jonathan Kuminga from several teams that believe he can be more successful with an increased role.
  • The Mavericks have expressed interest in Celtics free agent forward Grant Williams, who has the same agent as Luka Doncic, sources tell Scotto. Dallas has also considered bringing back former Maverick Harrison Barnes, Scotto adds.
  • League executives expect the Bulls to re-sign center Nikola Vucevic, likely for about $65MM over three years, according to Scotto.

Central Notes: LeVert, Mitchell, Pacers’ Workouts, Vucevic

A short-term contract might work for both the Cavaliers and one of their free agents, Caris LeVert, Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer opines. LeVert settled into the role of sixth man as the season went along and he wants to re-sign.

Cleveland won’t find a better player with its $12.2MM mid-level exception, according to Fedor, so it makes sense for the Cavs to bring back LeVert and then use the exception to add another rotation piece.

We have more from the Central Division:

  • Donovan Mitchell recently expressed on social media his frustration at not being All-NBA First Team. In an “Sideline Stroll w/Ros” interview (video link), Mitchell spoke about the perceived snub in greater detail. “I just felt I should have been First Team,” he said. “So that’s one of my goals next year, is to be First Team. And I felt like I was good enough. But obviously the media members did not.” Mitchell did make the Second Team.
  • The Pacers will host six draft prospects on Monday, including Indiana University star forward Trayce Jackson-Davis, according ot a team press release. Emmanuel Akot (Western Kentucky), Tyree Appleby (Wake Forest), Chris Livingston (Kentucky), Terquavion Smith (NC State) and Azuolas Tubelis (Arizona) will join him at the Pacers’ practice facility.
  • The Bulls are looking to lock up Nikola Vucevic for the next three seasons, according to Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times. A report that an extension was being discussed with the center, who will otherwise be a free agent next month, surfaced on Wednesday. The Bulls are apparently not looking to take “big swings” this summer and Cowley disagrees with that strategy for a franchise wallowing in mediocrity.