Bulls’ Nikola Vucevic remains an unwilling participant in blame game


NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Nikola Vucevic refuses to be a participant in the blame game.

The Bulls big man is well aware of its existence, especially how it pertains to him, but finds it rather unnecessary to even sit down at that table, let alone join in the finger-pointing fun.

His mindset? Leave that game for others to play.

“The anger, so to speak, or blame directed at me has really only been on social media,’’ Vucevic said on Tuesday when discussing the underachieving Bulls the last few seasons. “Like never in the city, the arena, in person have I ever felt that. Actually the opposite. All the negativity I’ve seen has been on Twitter … well X now. And honestly, for me I can understand it because people expect what I was doing in Orlando. But I don’t have that same role, I’m not utilized the same way, don’t have the same amount of touches or the touches where I was getting previously.

“Out of the three of us (Vucevic, DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine) I’m the one that has sacrificed the most from an individual game. That’s why I feel like the people that have been critical of me really don’t understand how basketball works, what it takes for us to function as a group.

“It’s OK, not everyone is going to like you.’’

Vucevic’s focus?

Unfinished business.

While the Bulls and Vucevic inked a contract extension right when the whistle for the start of free agency blew back in July, his return was the worst-kept secret of the offseason.

The Sun-Times reported that Vucevic and the team were in discussions as early as May, with Vucevic wanting to know exactly what plans coach Billy Donovan had for him in the offense, as well addressing the needed changes.

“Yeah, there was a lot of discussions about that,’’ Vucevic said, confirming those talks. “That was a big thing for me. A lot of stuff we talked about was more with Billy because he’s the head coach and he’s the one that makes those decisions. But it was finding ways to utilize me more. Not so much only for me shooting the ball and scoring but using my playmaking ability to help the team in different ways.’’

Basically, the way Miami used Bam Adebayo in the postseason by not only bringing the ball up, but in dribble-handoff sets and running actions off of it, as well as how Denver leaned on Nikola Jokic in their championship run.

It’s not about “Let Vooch Eat,’’ as much as, “Let Vooch Serve.’’

“I think we can see a lot more teams do it and do it at a high level,’’ Vucevic said of the NBA letting bigs play ball-handler and facilitator. “I think we also have a team that can function that way, obviously with me and all the guards that we have who can play off the ball. It could make life a lot easier for a lot of our guys.’’

The other part of his return was pride. Vucevic is very aware of what the Bulls gave up to acquire him from Orlando at the 2021 trade deadline, and also what he feels has still been left on the table.

Could he have gone ring shopping in free agency and looked for a team with deeper playoff possibilities? Absolutely. It’s not like he broke the bank at three years, $60 million.

Plus, as much as Bulls fans love to point his way when there’s disappointment, statistically he took major steps forward from two seasons ago, and was part of a top five defense in the 2022-23 campaign.

“I just felt like there was a lot of work undone,’’ Vucevic said. “Chicago traded for me. They brought me here. They gave up a lot for me. And so I felt a responsibility to come back and help the team do better than we did.’’

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