Once Nikola Vucevic found out he had been traded to the Chicago Bulls, his family shared an old photo. In the image, 5-year-old Vucevic stands decked out in Bulls gear and holding a basketball.
“Like obviously many people I was a big Bulls fan because of Jordan,” Vucevic said after shootaround Saturday afternoon. “On that picture, you can’t really see because it’s very dated, but I have a pair of Jordan 9s... I might still have that sweatsuit somewhere.”
Vucevic, the surprise splash of the day, was the headliner of the five additions the Bulls made before Thursday’s trade deadline. As he prepared to make his Bulls debutSaturday night against the San Antonio Spurs, he was still wrapping his head around the whirlwind that brought him to Chicago.
Even though the Orlando Magic informed Vucevic about the trade discussions, he said Thursday’s news still came as a shock. He spent the past nine seasons in Orlando and blossomed into a two-time All-Star before the Magic hit the reset button on their roster.
It’s clear he still feels strongly about the connections he made during his tenure in Orlando. When asked about his career with the Magic coming to an end, he became emotional and needed to collect himself for several minutes during his introductory zoom press conference.
“The hardest part was just the people,” he said. “Over nine years, you’re going to meet a lot of great people. That was just the hardest for me, just leaving that place. Obviously, it meant a lot to me. I came as a kid and left as a man.”
The Bulls reaped the benefits of the Magic’s teardown and came away with an All-Star to pair alongside Zach LaVine, who will also be one of the best perimeter players Vucevic has ever played alongside.
The fit between the two appears snug on paper. And after his conversations with coach Billy Donovan, Vucevic believes his style of play should transition smoothly to the Bulls.
“I’m a big fan of Zach. He’s a helluva player and I’ve heard a lot of great things about him off the court as well,” Vucevic said. “Our two-man game can be very good. It’s going to take some time for us to get to know each other and build that chemistry.
“When you have two high-caliber players and players with high IQs that know how to play the game and play to win, I think it won’t take us long. I think we’ll fit great together. I’m really looking forward to playing with him.”
Vucevic received a text message from LaVine after the trade was complete ,and he took a phone call from Bulls VP of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas, who previously worked as a scout for the Houston Rockets and took Vucevic to dinner during his draft process years ago.
Vucevic said he received a warm welcome from the Bulls, along with countless introductions and text messages. So, although he was still processing the shock from his Orlando departure, he was excited to make an impact on this roster.
“It felt in a similar way a couple years ago with us in Orlando,” Vucevic said, “where it was we have a bunch of young pieces you’re just missing a little bit.
“There’s a good group here. And one thing that I really liked when I watched practice yesterday, I couldn’t be part of it, but there was just very positive energy around the group. Guys really work hard and you can tell that there was just this positive vibe and guys are really motivated to have success and achieve something. So it’s always great to see and that’s kind of the base you have to have that guys are willing to get to that level. Hopefully I can fit right in and help them get to that next step.”