clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

No more time for ‘evaluation’, Bulls need to make a decision on Nikola Vucevic now

AKME ‘continuity’ and secrecy is not the tact, here

Chicago Bulls v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

This is a larger topic (drink! it’s a phrase I write a lot), but it’s important everyone remembers that a big motivation for the Bulls trading for Nikola Vucevic two trade deadlines ago was his contract. Vuc, an Eastern Conference All-Star (!), was signed for the rest of that season and the following two, at a sub-All-Star number of $28M that de-escalated to $22M this year.

(insert Vince McMahon going progressively horny/crazy meme but with Jerry Reinsdorf)

In the time since, the Bulls mostly got what they paid for. While not an abject disaster on the court - please, Wendell Carter’s 43 games a season would not be better by itself - Vucevic played at about that contract number, certainly didn’t add value over it.

The disastrous trade that got the Bulls Vucevic is AKME’s original sin, but that’s over and done with. There should be no thought given to what it took to bring Vuc into town. He’s going to be an unrestricted free agent, and the only thing that matters now is whatever value he can give the team going forward whether on the court or in a trade return. And then weighing that versus other avenues of acquiring and paying a starting center.

That’s what Mark Karantzoulis at CHGO goes into, detailing how the Bulls are in a bit of what’s known as a Bird Rights Trap with Vuc. Due to other guaranteed contracts and cap holds, this summer the Bulls will be functionally over the cap regardless of what they decide with Vuc. The trap, then, is that they can use a Bird Rights Exception to bring back Vucevic, but would have to use a much lower exception (Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level) to bring in somebody else.

Mark stops short in that post, by suggesting that the Bulls can afford to wait until the offseason and let negotiations play out there. No! Vucevic, by virtue of being on a non-rookie contract for multiple seasons with the Bulls now, is eligible to sign an extension right now.

Over the weekend, Myles Turner just signed an extension with the Pacers, and there had been rumors that negotiations were ongoing. With the Bulls, as is typical, we haven’t heard anything resembling progress with this since the start of this season when the Bulls also didn’t reach an extension agreement with Coby White. The difference with White is that date was a deadline (since he’s on his rookie deal), where that’s not the case with Vucevic.

The only reporting I can find around this is from second-tier rumormonger (god forbid the local beat finds out anything anymore) Jake Fischer at Yahoo Sports (via) on December 14th.

There are no ongoing contract extension conversations between the Bulls and Nikola Vucevic, sources told Yahoo Sports. Chicago never truly had significant negotiations to restructure its starting center’s deal.

This is another case of unacceptable dithering from this front office. Even if you allow the consideration that the Bulls are uniquely secretive and thorough so maybe they’re negotiating now and it’s not leaking (like with Billy Donovan, LOL oh man), this isn’t the kind of thing that should be done in secret.

The Bulls have leverage, now, that they won’t in the summer. Whether or not they can get a deal done is up to all parties, but the Bulls need to act before the trade deadline.

I don’t mind signing Vuc to an extension, if it’s a favorable contract. Unlike the Pacers with Turner, the Bulls are presently over the cap so with an extension the first-year limit would be a figure within 120% of Vuc’s current-year salary. That’s certainly well within parameters, if anything I’d be looking for Vuc to take a decrease in salary going forward. As Mark noted, the key here is the years. Vuc just turned 32, and 1-2 more seasons would be advantageous versus the 4 year deal he’s eligible for in unrestricted free agency.

AKME has shown some good things in their transactions execution so far since taking over, but one thing they have not been good at is negotiating on the margins, always the team throwing in something extra on trades. I don’t doubt that if Vucevic reaches unrestricted free agency, even with a dearth of teams with cap space looking to sign a center, the Bulls will still overpay as to not lose him for nothing.

So to avoid that, they should be negotiating, right now, up until to the trade deadline. Tell Vucevic (and leak it for the slop gobblers of the internet!) the team’s terms for a favorable extension.

If he doesn’t take it, trade him.

(needless to say but I’ll say it anyway: how this year’s team will perform without Vucevic is not a concern. This season is going mid-to-shit with or without Vuc.)

This is the time where the Bulls can get value. And though it won’t be much, there is value to be obtained even if it doesn’t come in the form of a first-round pick or a good young player.

Remember, the Bulls only have so many methods to add talent given they are an over-the-cap team. That’s why it’s still so maddening they didn’t use their MLE this past summer. If Vucevic does leave in unrestricted free agency, there’s no mechanism to sign somebody making similar money. There’s the outside possibility of a sign-and-trade, but those mostly give you bad-to-neutral value contracts in return because the receiving team is signing the player to a new market-level contract (think the caliber they sent in the Lonzo and DeMar deals).

Instead, if they stop with this radio silence and actually put urgency on something by the deadline, they can use Vuc’s contract to get a player making similar money signed through next year. Or someone on an expiring deal but who they feel better about retaining in the summer (this means tampering, I guess, but I’ll allow it).

For lack of a more precise term, making this decision now keeps the ‘slot’ at ~$25M that you can use in following seasons to (gasp) try and get better. If waiting until the summer, you are either getting Vuc on a larger contract, or just the MLE to replace him and not address the other gaping holes on the roster.

The Bulls new front office has already squandered any goodwill in having fans believe they’re really active just secretive. Things move fast in the NBA, so punting a trade deadline and offseason last year will do that. I’m guessing that’s why they aren’t even speculated on when it comes to trading Vucevic. Not that it isn’t a good idea, but the Bulls have conditioned everyone to expect little and get even less.