Following arguably the most crushing loss of the 2022-23′ season to the Indiana Pacers on Sunday night, Nikola Vucevic was asked how much hope is left to make the postseason with 17 games remaining. His response will make Bulls fans’ hearts drop, but it is no surprise. The former two-time All-Star said what everyone in and out of the organization was thinking, and it was just a matter of saying it out loud. While Chicago now sits 1.5 games back of a Play-In Tournament berth, the odds are increasingly stacked against them. Is Vucevic a realist, or is there still a chance the Bulls can resurrect the season?
The arrival of Patrick Beverley amped up the level of accountability and urgency, and it seems to be hitting some soft spots throughout the roster. Vucevic is the clearest example. He and Beverley had a notable verbal altercation on the court following a defensive breakdown that the Bulls’ center was blatantly late on a rotation, and it turned into a free lane to the rim and eventual free throws from the rookie Jaden Ivey. As seen below, the big man did not enjoy being confronted by the newly acquired veteran point guard.
Chicago Sun-Times’ Joe Cowley wrote the following after this altercation as suspicions rose that this was not a one-time occurrence with Vucevic or several other Bulls’ players.
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“According to a source close to the situation, Vucevic has not been thrilled with some of the recent finger pointing going on, and this wasn’t the first time he was unhappy with the tone in which he — and other teammates — were spoken to,”…”While the source said it wasn’t just a “Beverley-Vooch thing,” it does put in question the exact leadership hierarchy with this roster.”Joe Cowley of Chicago Sun-Times
In a contract year for the 32-year-old center where he’s putting up one of the best seasons of his career, this could be the early indication that he’ll look for a new organization in a few short months. Having never made a deep playoff run individually, it would not be surprising if he exchanges the more lucrative contract that Chicago could offer him for the prospect of contending for an NBA title. The Bulls are 87-91 with only one playoff win in his tenure with the team.
Realism Setting In
The Bulls’ latest loss was widely considered the do-or-die game of the year. Now sitting 12th in the Eastern Conference, losing the tiebreaker against every team in the Play-In Tournament except the Wizards, facing a current playoff team in six of their next seven, and only holding a 6% chance to make the postseason according to FiveThirtyEight.com, things just spilled over into red alert, and Vucevic was the first one to say it out loud.
While it may sound like a bombshell, he’s not wrong. There’s no reason that adding an 11-year veteran point guard who does not add three-point shooting would fix anything that’s haunted the Bulls all season long. Following a trade deadline with no activity and a buyout market where they made one minor addition, their front office leader Arturas Karnisovas will certainly have his back against the wall this offseason. Every name on the roster has been mentioned in some trade or uncertainty moving forward, so the main storyline to watch this summer is just how different this team could look and who’s being held accountable for an utterly embarrassing 22-23′ campaign.
Revisiting the tanking option, a top-four selection might be the only thing that could consider this season somewhat positive. While the Bulls will not actively chase that option, it would seem they’ll unintentionally be closer to that result than a postseason appearance. With 17 games to go and less light shining at the end of the tunnel by the day, is it time to throw in the towel or hope for a miraculous run?