Nikola Vučević has been here before.
The big man played the entire 2018-19 season without a contract extension, headed to unrestricted free agency.
All Vučević did that season for the Orlando Magic was make his first All-Star team and produce then-career-high averages of 20.8 points, 12 rebounds and 3.8 assists. The rebounding average remains the highest of his 12-year career.
Vučević re-signed with the Magic on a four-year, $100 million contact during the 2019 offseason, a contract that expires after this season. Unless the Bulls and Vučević reach terms on an extension before July 1, the two-time All-Star again will enter unrestricted free agency.
At that point, he will have made close to $156 million over his career. So, no, the Chicago Bulls’ center isn’t sweating the situation.
“I really don’t think about it too much,” Vučević said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. “I think the front office kind of wants to see how everything goes this season before they make decisions. That’s part of it.
“If I was younger, I might think about it more. But now I just play and see what happens. It also helps that I’ve been doing this for so long that teams know what I do, how good I am, what I bring to the table. In my mind, I don’t think this year is going to change the perception people have of me. You just play and things take care of themselves usually.”
Vučević and his representatives actually rejected a less lucrative extension offer from the Magic before they ultimately hit on the four-year deal in 2019.
“I ended up getting more so it worked out well for me,” Vučević said.
This time, Vučević didn’t have to make that decision as the two sides didn’t progress much, if at all, on an extension.
Unrestricted free agency is a two-way street. Not only do the Bulls have to commit to Vučević, the deal has to make sense for him.
So what will drive his side of the decision?
“Obviously, the team success, how we play and how we do and then what the team decides to do. There are a lot of factors that go in it,” he said. “I’m happy here. I like it here. We’ll see what happens.”
Having Vučević walk for nothing after sending Wendell Carter Jr. and two lightly protected first-round picks to the Magic near the 2021 trade deadline in a deal that also included exchanging expiring contracts in Otto Porter Jr. and Al-Farouq Aminu would be a less-than-ideal look for Bulls management. So these negotiations will be intriguing to monitor.
Vučević is averaging 16.5 points, 11.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists while shooting 47.3 percent overall and 39.7 percent from 3-point range. He’s focused on basketball, not business.
“Obviously, when you have an extension, you have security. But one good thing about not having one is you still have options to do what you feel like is best for you and your family,” Vučević said. “I’m not in a position where it’s like a pressing thing for me, where like my whole life depends on it. I don’t have to worry about when I get my next contract, how big it’s going to be. I’ve set myself up for a nice life, post-career.
“That’s why I have more peace of mind now than maybe I had the first time when I was heading into (unrestricted free agency). I don’t really think about it too much. I’m just going to play and do the best I can to help this team win. When that time comes, we’ll take care of it.”