Nikola Vucevic is coming to save Zach LaVine.
Well, perhaps it’s not that dramatic, but Vucevic’s arrival in Chicago is no doubt a signal from the Bulls organization that they’re committed to winning, on some level, with a team built around their All-Star guard. The Bulls are only 19-24, and are currently 10th in the Eastern Conference — meaning they’ll play in the play-in as of now — but are banking on the unpredictability of this season and that LaVine’s crossover to stardom isn’t temporary. The Bulls are also embarking on a season-defining stretch, with nine of their next 10 games to be played on the road, and their only home contest will be opposite the Brooklyn Nets.
LaVine’s making $19.5 million next season, with Vucevic banking another $46 million (descending from $24 to $22 million) over the next two seasons. But Vucevic commanded much interest due to his friendly contract, combined with his abilities that have lauded him as one of the most offensively talented big men in the ever-evolving NBA. He even dropped a career-best 43 points against these Bulls in February.
Vucevic had been averaging a career-best 24.5 points, along with 11.8 rebounds, for the Magic, who are currently 14th in the East with a 15-29 record. Vucevic’s field-goal, three-point, and free-throw shooting splits are about 48% / 41% / 83% this season, including career-best marks on the last two metrics. He is also one of five multiple All-Stars the Magic have produced, along with Shaquille O’Neal, Penny Hardaway, Grant Hill, and Tracy McGrady. LaVine has, to some degree, shaken his good stats-bad team persona for the moment, but the Bulls aren’t yet good either, so this tandem will be on the clock. But for now, it’s a win-now move meant to comfort LaVine in a spring preceding the conclusion of the season, which will likely spring LaVine into a max extension months from now.
And the Bulls also landed Troy Brown and Mo Wagner from the Washington Wizards, both of whom were rotation players in D.C.
Whether it’ll all work remains to be seen, obviously, but it’s worth the gamble if the belief in building around LaVine is legitimate. It will be difficult to eventually overtake the East’s upper-echelon, like the 76ers, Heat, Nets, Celtics, and Bucks, but at a time where many organizations won’t even try, at least the Bulls are going all in.