As the February 9th trade deadline approaches, the rumor mill continues to churn with possible transactions in and out of the struggling Chicago Bulls. Sitting well beneath expectations nearing 50 games into the season, many have called for a rebuild or re-tool. According to K.C. Johnson of N.B.C. Chicago, there’s one hot name as the deadline approaches, and the return could be significant. Nikola Vucevic’s contract expires following the 2022-23′ campaign when he becomes a league-wide desired unrestricted free agent. Given the substantial amount of future assets they sacrificed in bringing him in a few years ago, the pressure is on to keep or retain value before he walks this summer.
“Need To Know Now” On Bulls’ Big Man
The Bulls are in a pinch as the trade deadline nears, and Vucevic’s situation only complicates things. Playing arguably the best basketball of his career the past month and ranking among the league’s best stretch centers, he’s warranted a contract extension in the Windy City should he wish to stick around for the long haul. Here are the three options the Bulls have to choose from in the next ten days.
Option A: Get a contract extension done
This one is not as simple as it looks; with DeMar DeRozan seeking an extension of his own at a much more lucrative value, Chicago might back themselves in a deeper corner by bringing their center back too. With the 120% contract extension rule set by the C.B.A., it’s assumed his offer from Chicago would be in the 26.4 million per year range but would mean paying a 34-36-year-old center almost 30 million a year. Myles Turner just inked a two-year, 58-million-dollar extension with the Indiana Pacers, meaning the market for Vucevic would likely be slightly higher than that, and he could have more lucrative options elsewhere. Having just signed Zach Lavine to a max-extension, Vucevic’s career year on the court means other teams will likely be in on the bidding war, and DeRozan’s extension taking priority, this option may have slimmer odds than most would think.
Option B: Trade Him Before Deadline
This doesn’t have to mean the Bulls give up on the season, but it would require a bit of a re-tool for the back half into the playoffs. While a return similar to Rudy Gobert’s this past summer is unrealistic, there’s still hope the haul would be significant. According to HoopsHype, Vucevic had the 53rd most trade value in the league this last off-season and has played his best basketball as a Chicago Bull this year, only raising that stock since.
Bubble-contending teams who lack rebounding or stretch-shooting abilities would be all-in on the veteran center, who’s even flashed the ability to run the entire offense through him with impressive decision-making skills from the middle. A sufficient return would include multiple draft picks and 1-2 rotational players under 30, and the younger the return, the more enticed Chicago would be to pull the trigger. Having given up effectively three first-round picks to get the big man there, at least two first-round caliber assets would make sense for both sides and give the less-than-stellar front office a chance to redeem themselves.
Option C: Bet On Lonzo Ball’s Return
The most frustrating of the options would be what early indications show will happen, that the Bulls do nothing with the big man and have failed to reach an agreement. While that does not guarantee they won’t re-up during negotiations over the summer, with other teams bidding and his impressive resurgence this season, it would not bring any Bulls’ fans confidence that they’d be able to get him back with what they can offer.
If Lonzo Ball can return by the playoffs, this team is dangerous. Having already proved they are more than capable against the elites in the East, indicative by their 11-3 record against the last four Eastern Conference champions and holding the number one seed for the majority of the first half a season ago, they’d be on upset alert the entire postseason. Not to mention, the Bulls’ three all-stars are playing their best basketball of late, and when they are all healthy have dominated stretches of games. Bill Simmons agrees that this is a team “no one wants to see in the first round.” A deep postseason run could entice Vucevic to take a discount and stay with championship aspirations for a few more seasons.
With five games until the trade deadline, barring Chicago dropping four or more of them, the prediction is they’ll stay quiet and ride out the season with hopes of Ball’s return before the end of the regular season. Regardless of the success in the coming weeks, the Bulls have one of their most crucial decisions to date and could decide the entire future of the franchise. Should they start the rebuild by shipping Vucevic or double down and bet on a deep playoff push this year?
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The entire Ball situation sounds eerily similar to the Gilbert Arenas, Penny Hardway, Fat Lever situations. None of the players ever recovered after injuring their knees.
IMO – trade him NOW.