Nikola Vucevic is a prideful player.
The Bulls big man admittedly lets his mistakes sometimes weigh too heavily on him, and for too long in some cases.
But Vucevic is also his own toughest critic, and that’s why the latest Bulls drama at least needs to be documented in a “Something to Watch’’ file.
With 5:56 left in the fourth quarter against the Pistons on Wednesday, Detroit rookie Jaden Ivey beat Patrick Beverley off the dribble, and was headed for the rim with the blow-by. Beverley was counting on Vucevic to peel off his man and help with some rim protection, but that didn’t happen when it appeared that Vucevic was not paying attention to the ball.
Beverley started getting on Vucevic about how the center should have played it, and the two had words, as veteran DeMar DeRozan had to step in and play peacemaker.
According to a source close to the situation, Vucevic has not been thrilled with some of the recent finger pointing going on, and this wasn’t the first time he was unhappy with the tone in which he — and other teammates — were spoken to.
While the source said it wasn’t just a “Beverley-Vooch thing,’’ it does put in question the exact leadership hierarchy with this roster.
Not the first time that’s been questioned this season, either.
Goran Dragic, who was released earlier this week, was very public about this roster 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 just 19 regular-season games left, and will enter Friday’s game with the Phoenix Suns sitting in the 11th spot of the Eastern Conference, on the outside of the play-in tournament and looking in. There’s still a lot on the line since the organization opted to try and make a postseason push.
Where it could get interesting, however?
Vucevic is also an unrestricted free agent this offseason, and is by far the most attractive center that will be on the market, especially with Myles Turner locked up by the Pacers last month.
He told the Sun-Times recently that he was not approached about an extension before the season because the front office wanted to “see how this all works out,’’ but maybe it’s Vucevic that’s also paying attention to how this is working out, and does he even want to be a part of it?
By all accounts, he and his family like Chicago, and Vucevic isn’t someone who wants to jump around 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.
So a criticizing tone coming from the outside is one thing, but one 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.’’