No one was expecting Nikola Vucevic to be uprooted from his eight-year NBA home with the Orlando Magic at the trade deadline in March. Now with the Chicago Bulls, he’s looking forward to the chapter ahead.
Now eight games in to his Windy City tenure, Vucevic has been as advertised.
The two-time All-Star is averaging 22.9 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 3.6 assists.
But the Bulls are just 3-5 since his arrival, currently 22-29 and the Eastern Conference’s 10th seed.
With the three wins notably having come in their last four games, the stars may be aligning for a playoff push.
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Vucevic Pulls Back the Curtain
In his first interview since being traded two weeks ago, Nikola Vucevic gave a behind-the-scenes look at the trade deadline from his point of view, when speaking with Alex Kennedy of Basketball News.
Unlike the rest of the NBA, he says the trade wasn’t a blindside by any means:
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. They pretty much just let me know that the trade was happening and said, ‘You’re going to Chicago.’
Still, Vucevic admits it wasn’t easy having to leave his previous NBA home of eight and a half years:
And I think the biggest thing for me is that I was in Orlando for so long and I had such a special bond with the franchise, the city, the fans, the people there. I pretty much grew up there. I went from a 21-year-old boy to a 30-year-old man who’s married with two kids, so I don’t know…it was definitely still a shock, and it took a little bit for me to adjust to it.
A charming welcome from the Windy City fans and the Chicago Bulls front office certainly helped though:
But then once I got to Chicago, all of the people were great to me and very welcoming — people from the team, the players, the coaches, the front office, people in the city, everywhere. Even in the hotel that I stayed at the first couple of days, everybody was pretty excited. When you see that, it gets easier.
Vucevic spent eight and a half seasons and played 591 games with the Orlando Magic. Together, they reached the playoffs on three separate occasions, but never advanced past the first round.
He leaves the team as a top-5 member of almost every statistical career leaderboard, and as a player who’s tenure will be prominently defined on the franchise’s timeline.
But Nikola Vucevic’s story is far from over.
As hard as it is for Nikola Vucevic to leave a storied tenure with the Orlando Magic, there’s still a sense of excitement for him in starting anew with the Chicago Bulls:
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.
The 30-year old big man makes for the second All-Star that will be suiting up nightly at the United Center. When asked about his fit next to Zach LaVine, Vucevic was optimistic:
Knowing Zach, he’s one of the best players at his position in this league and he had a great year this year; he was an All-Star, and I think he will be one for many years to come. It’s always great to play alongside a guy like that and it’s going to make my life easier, and hopefully I can make his life easier as well on the court.
He later admitted he’s never played next to a scorer of this caliber:
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.
So far, so good–kind of. Chicago’s two All-Stars playing well hasn’t been an issue. As individuals they’ve put up their typical career numbers. It’s the supporting cast that’s struggled since Vucevic’s arrival.
Take the Bulls most recent loss to the Atlanta Hawks for example. LaVine and Vucevic combined for 75 points, shooting 29-of-50 from the field. Everyone else combined for 33 points on 12-of-26 shooting.
Chicago’s going to need a bigger lift from the team’s supporting cast if they’re to make the playoffs—something that’s eluded them since 2017, the final year of Jimmy Butler.
Vucevic confirmed the team’s focus on the postseason, citing it as one of the first things head coach Billy Donovan discussed with him upon his arrival:
Yeah, for sure, that is their goal. Coach Donovan even emphasized that in the first meetings when all of us first arrived. I think that’s an achievable goal.
21 games to go.
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