There’s impressing your future bosses, and then there’s what Nikola Vucevic did to the Bulls back on Feb. 5, still a member of the Orlando Magic.
The 30-year-old All-Star center overwhelmed anyone and everything Bulls coach Billy Donovan threw at him that night, finishing with 43 points, 19 rebounds, and oh by the way, hitting four three-pointers.
It obviously left an impression.
Hours before the Thursday trade deadline, the Bulls and Magic finally found common ground, as Vucevic was sent to the Bulls in a package that included former first-round pick Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr., and two first-round picks in 2021and 2023 with both being top-four protected.
As well as bringing Vucevic over, the Bulls also acquired veteran forward Al-Farouq Aminu in the package.
Aminu was making $9.7 million this season, as well as having the player option next year at $10.1 million. Not bad, but obviously Vucevic came at a price, and one the Bulls were very comfortable with.
Not only do they add a true big to a lineup that was often engulfed by opposing centers, but an offensive piece that works perfectly with first-time All-Star Zach LaVine.
Vucevic works well in pick-and-roll, pick-and-pop, can stretch the floor, and in doing so opens up the paint for players like LaVine and rookie Patrick Williams to attack the rim.
But there was an even bigger picture to come out of this deal.
Yes, the center has a favorable contract that actually goes down in price. He made $26 million this season, he’ll make $24 million next season, and then $22 million in the final year. What it also continues to show, however, is the culture change the Bulls are trying to establish.
Whether the Vucevic-LaVine combo can contend as big dogs in the Eastern Conference is debatable, but what’s not is the Bulls are doing what it takes to become a destination place for possible free agents, not only the next few years in this current window, but in years to come.
That’s what aggressiveness and ridding themselves of players who would get into their own heads far too often does. Players talk, and they haven’t been talking about the Bulls for years.
That changed on Thursday, as executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas followed up the Vucevic deal by sending Daniel Gafford and Chandler Hutchison to Washington for small forward Troy Brown and stretch-five Mo Wagner.