Bulls big man Nikola Vucevic not thrilled with finger-pointing going on

Vucevic and teammate Patrick Beverley had a minor dust-up late in the victory against the Pistons, with DeMar DeRozan had to step in. A source told the Sun-Times that Vucevic hasn’t been thrilled with the recent finger-pointing and the tone in which it’s being delivered.

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Nikola Vucevic

Bulls center Nikola Vucevic was not thrilled with the way he was spoken to by a teammate in Wednesday’s win over the Pistons, and was worth watching when the big man hits this offseason’s free-agent market.

Carlos Osorio/AP

Nikola Vucevic is a prideful player. He sometimes lets mistakes weigh on him too heavily and for too long.

But Vucevic is also his own toughest critic, and that’s why the Bulls’ latest drama is worth following.

With 5:56 left in the fourth quarter Wednesday in Detroit, Pistons rookie Jaden Ivey beat Patrick Beverley off the dribble and was headed for the rim. Beverley was counting on Vucevic to peel off his man and help with rim protection, but that didn’t happen. It appeared that Vucevic wasn’t paying attention to the ball.

Beverley started getting on Vucevic about how he should’ve played it, and the two had words. DeMar DeRozan had to step in and play peacemaker.

According to a source close to the situation, Vucevic hasn’t been thrilled with some of the recent finger-pointing, and this wasn’t the first time he was unhappy with the tone directed at him and other teammates.

While the source said it wasn’t just a “Beverley-Vooch thing,’’ it does put the team’s leadership hierarchy in question.

And it’s not the first time that has been questioned this season.

Goran Dragic, who was released this week, went public about the team understanding sacrifice and accountability. Not just talking about it with each other, but actually doing it.

“That’s why when I talk about sacrifice … it’s easy to talk about sacrifice if it’s not you,’’ Dragic said. “And if it’s not you, who’s doing the sacrificing? When your time comes to sacrifice, everyone can see what you’re really about.’’

The good news is that the locker room and coaching staff know exactly what Vucevic is about. He’s a consummate professional and won’t let feelings linger or affect his play. The Bulls have 19 regular-season games left and will enter the game Friday against the Suns in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, on the outside of the play-in tournament. There’s still a lot on the line after the organization opted to make a playoff push.

But here’s where it could get interesting:

Vucevic is an unrestricted free agent this offseason and by far the most attractive center available. The Pacers locked up Myles Turner last month.

Vucevic told the Sun-Times recently that he wasn’t approached about an extension before the season because the front office wanted to “see how this all works out.’’ But maybe Vucevic also is paying attention to how this is working out and whether he wants to be a part of it?

By all accounts, he and his family like Chicago, and Vucevic isn’t someone who wants to jump from team to team. But he also knows there aren’t a lot of bigs in the league that can fall out of bed and average 17.7 points and 11.3 rebounds while shooting just under 35% from three-point range as a third option in this Bulls’ offense.

A criticizing tone coming from the outside is one thing. But from his own locker room? If Vucevic was younger, maybe — and that’s a big maybe.

“I know how valuable I am to this team,’’ Vucevic told the Sun-Times recently. “It’s not like I’m a third- or fourth-year player, just trying to establish myself and establish my value. It’s pretty well-known around the league what I can do, what I bring to the table.’’

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