Blame Vooch? Bulls big man Nikola Vucevic is used to the criticism

His detractors likely will be out again in the wake of the Bulls’ overtime loss Friday to the Thunder in Oklahoma City. But his teammates and coaches know how important he is to the Bulls’ success.

SHARE Blame Vooch? Bulls big man Nikola Vucevic is used to the criticism
Nikola Vucevic

Bulls center Nikola Vucevic knows Twitter exists. Heck, he had sent out 2,080 tweets on his own account, as of Friday.

Vucevic just refuses to put value in any type of social media. For him, it isn’t the real world. It’s the angry guy who lost a bet on the Bulls or the disgruntled fan who doesn’t understand the sacrifice Vucevic makes game in and game out.

So while many NBA players get worked up about comments and even get into back-and-forths with those who make them, Vucevic rarely reads negativity. And when he does, it’s for a laugh.

‘‘Fans get caught up in the moment a lot,’’ Vucevic said in a discussion with the Sun-Times. ‘‘Honestly, since I’ve been [with the Bulls], even when things weren’t going well for me personally, I’ve mainly felt support from Bulls fans in person.

‘‘Now social media is something else. People on social media write whatever they want. This team wouldn’t work if I tried to play the same way I did in Orlando. I can’t help it if people don’t see that. We have two big-time scorers [in DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine], so it’s about me adjusting my game to them.

‘‘One of my best qualities is I’ve adjusted my game while still being effective in different ways. Some of the stuff I’m the best at, I’m not able to do in this offense. But it’s for the good of the team. That’s what matters.’’

But when the Bulls have bad nights — and they have had more than a few this season — it’s Vucevic who often has the blame pointed in his direction.

In the Bulls’ 123-119 overtime loss Friday in Oklahoma City — a game in which DeRozan scored 30 points and LaVine 27 — Vucevic barely got a sniff of the ball in the paint during the extra session, despite having some success in the post against the Thunder’s smaller frontcourt. He did take two three-pointers that missed and finished with 13 points and 13 rebounds.

Still, his 1-for-7 showing from three-point range undoubtedly didn’t sit well with his critics — and he seems to have many.

That was obvious last week, when the Bulls lost a stunner to Vucevic’s former Magic team, even though he put up 14 points, 16 rebounds, seven assists and three blocks.

The critics flocked to point out that not only was Vucevic outscored by Wendell Carter Jr., the big piece the Bulls sent to the Magic in the deal to acquire Vucevic, but that Franz Wagner scored 20 points. The Magic drafted Wagner eighth overall in 2021, courtesy of a draft pick they also obtained from the Bulls in the deal.

‘‘I know some people want to bring back the trade, the picks that were given [also a first-rounder in 2023], but it happened,’’ Vucevic said. ‘‘If it didn’t, it’s not for sure the Bulls would have picked Wagner or hit on the pick. Who knows what would have happened?’’

And that’s what many like to forget.

When the Bulls acquired Vucevic at the trade deadline in 2021, they were still a laughingstock, even with the previous front office and coaching staff purged. Acquiring a player such as Vucevic not only added talent, but it also changed perception. If the Bulls didn’t have Vucevic, they wouldn’t have been able to lure DeRozan and Lonzo Ball in sign-and-trade deals.

In the bigger picture, it showed executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas wasn’t afraid to take big swings. The Bulls might not be holding the championship trophy anytime soon, but who knows where things will go? Vucevic was the first domino.

Now the question is whether his time with the Bulls is close to done. He will be eligible for free agency after the season and was hoping to have at least a conversation with the front office during camp. That didn’t happen.

That’s not a surprise because Karnisovas operates with the idea that everyone in and around the organization works on a need-to-know basis, and there’s not much he thinks anyone needs to know.

So Vucevic will wait.

‘‘If it was something that they wanted to at least discuss, we would have been happy to do it,’’ Vucevic said of an extension. ‘‘But it sounds like they want to take their time, see how things go. I understand that. I know how business works. I only control what I can control. So whether it’s later in the season or in the summer, we’ll see.’’

The Latest
The soon-to-be 22-year-old forward struggled throughout most of the year, although he did at least improve his ability to move on from mistakes.
The man keeps trying to make plans to hang out, but his friends want nothing to do with him.
In fur and makeup, Jesse Eisenberg and Riley Keough spend most of the movie scratching, sneezing and worse.
The Hawks weren’t able to translate possession time into much tangible offense during a 3-1 loss Tuesday in Vegas.