The Bulls’ Nikola Vucevic continues to make big plays in his contract year

It seemed fitting that Nikola Vucevic continued his recent streak of strong play with a monster game in Orlando Saturday night as the Chicago Bulls beat the Magic 128-109.

After all, Vucevic, who posted his 12th double-double in 14 games with a whopping 26 points, 13 rebounds and six assists, is in a contract year. Just like he was in 2018-19, when he averaged 20.8 points, 12 rebounds and 3.8 assists for the Magic.

Like his current situation with the Bulls, the Magic weren’t seriously entertaining contract extension talks entering 2018-19. After Vucevic delivered his huge season, the Magic immediately signed him to a four-year, $100 million contract.

That same deal expires in the offseason. The Bulls did not begin serious contract extension talks with Vucevic last offseason and now face a decision as the Feb. 9 trade deadline approaches.

Roll the dice and try to either trade or extend Vucevic this offseason? Move it to February 9th to make sure it doesn’t go to waste?

As an unrestricted free agent, Vucevic must say where he will play next on July 1. And it is certainly the responsibility of the Bulls management to have an idea of ​​where their center leader stands given the price they paid to acquire him in March 2021.

The Magic are still reaping the benefits of this trade aside from the contributions they are getting from Wendell Carter Jr. and Franz Wagner. The Bulls still owe a first-round pick that will be entered in this June’s NBA draft as long as it falls outside the first four selections.

Throughout the season, Vucevic said he wasn’t focused on business, just basketball.

“I feel very good at the moment. I’m really in rhythm,” Vucevic said. “I’m really finding my spots in the game, whether it’s shooting, making plays or rebounding.”

The recovery began when Vucevic noticed while watching film that he wasn’t as aggressive as he usually was when chasing the ball.

“There was one little stretch for a while where I did my job early to get my man out and then I didn’t want to get the ball. And I wasn’t as aggressive on offensive rebounds. That’s why I put more emphasis on it. It’s my job to do it. I’ve always been a good ricochet. This is important for our team,” said Vucevic. “We’ve had games where we’ve defended pretty well, but then we give up second-chance points that hurt us. I feel like when you want to go get it, they come to you too.”

The Magic had just seven second-chance points on Saturday. Vucevic has 28 double-doubles, tied for fifth in the NBA.

Somewhat quietly, Vucevic is having a great season, especially when you consider that he is often the third option on offense. After Saturday’s great game, he’s averaging 17.5 points on 51.9 percent shooting, including 36.6 percent from 3-point range, with 11.1 rebounds and 3.3 assists.

For someone who admired the passing ability of big men like Pau and Marc Gasol, Vlade Divac and Arvydas Sabonis, Vucevic takes a lot of pride in his unselfishness. His ability to find the open man also stems from watching his father play professionally while growing up.

“I really enjoy passing, especially if I get the ball in the pocket and I can make a play for my teammates, whether it’s a cutter or someone in the corner. I enjoy this as much as getting a bucket. I feel like it’s a very underrated part of my game,” Vucevic said. “I enjoy the right game.

“It comes from having a good basketball IQ. And I think it helps us a lot because Zach (LaVine) and DeMar (DeRozan) double and I get it in the pocket and make plays for others. It opens up a lot for us offensively.”

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