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What Chicago Bulls’ contracts could look after Nikola Vucevic extension

Bulls Nikola Vucevic
Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

To keep Vucevic, or not to keep Vucevic?

To keep trying for hopeful trips to the NBA playoffs, or fully embrace the need to try again?

The Chicago Bulls pushed in nearly every chip they possibly could in a herculean effort to force Chicago out of the days of taking spots near the bottom of the Central Division and working through various young faces as it desperately tried to find a new sense of direction under the old regime.

Under the new faces of the front office, Chicago’s identity seemed to be ready for a drastic change.

“We’re going to add talent to our roster and from there get better and come back improved and better so we don’t have to sit out another postseason,” Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Artūras Karnišovas said in May 2021, via “I don’t like to watch postseason games now just because I’m not happy that we’re not in it. I’m a competitive guy. Talking to all the players, they’re disappointed. We’re disappointed. And we’re going into the next season to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

For a time, it seemed the Bulls’ calculated risks paid off.

Highlighted by wins over the Boston Celtics and the Denver Nuggets, the Bulls jumped out to a 24-10 record by the beginning of 2022. Forward DeMar DeRozan hit two game-winning 3-point shots in a row in wins over the Indiana Pacers and the Washington Wizards, putting the league on notice after he was rated one of the 10 worst signings of the 2021 NBA Free Agency period by Bleacher Report National NBA Columnist Zach Buckley.

Like all risks, however, some are bound to fail.

The Bulls finished the last two seasons with a total of one playoff win. Chicago completed the 2022-23 season with a record of 40-42, winning a Play-In tournament matchup over the Toronto Raptors before falling to the Miami Heat in the eighth-seed game.

Until Wednesday, Chicago had a difficult decision to make.

Should it keep Nikola Vucevic, a 32-year-old center and a former two-time All-Star, on the roster with the hopes that the team it invested so much into finally reaches the potential it showed in 2021? Or should it cut its losses early and try to reset its roster around its younger options?

Chicago Sun-Times Bulls reporter Joe Cowley wrote the team may be looking to re-sign the former No. 16 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft earlier this month.

“Project ‘Blow Up’ is not an option, according to Karnisovas, who seems fine with staying on the path of continuity,” Cowley wrote. “The organization is content to hold out hope for a miraculous Lonzo Ball recovery from three surgeries on his left knee, while beginning negotiations on Nikola Vucevic’s contract extension over the last week.

“The Bulls are looking to lock up the big man for the next three years. Big swings aren’t in the summer forecast.”

Its question was all but answered on Wednesday by a tweet from The Athletic Senior NBA Insider Shams Charania.

“The Chicago Bulls and center Nikola Vucevic are nearing a three-year, $60 million contract extension, league sources tell @TheAthletic @Stadium,” Charania wrote.

With the 2023 NBA draft in the rearview mirror and eight players listed as potential free agents in 2023, what do Chicago’s contracts look like before a crucial offseason in deciding the future of the Bulls gets into full swing? 

Chicago Bulls’ contracts

Chicago’s salary cap situation isn’t ideal.

But it isn’t as horrible as it can be.

10 players at least have the option of returning to Chicago before the start of the 2023-24 season, according to sports contract and salary website Spotrac. Besides Vucevic, DeRozan, guard Zach LaVine, forward Patrick Williams and guard Alex Caruso highlight the players under contract for the Bulls next season.

The Bulls have three unrestricted free agents, four restricted free agents and one player with a player option on their 2023 free agents list. Guards Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu are listed as restricted free agents, while guards Javonte Green and Patrick Beverley will be unrestricted free agents.

Center Andre Drummond is listed with a player option. Guard Carlik Jones and center Marko Simonovic are listed with non-guaranteed contracts. The 2023-24 portion of Carlik Jones’s deal will become fully guaranteed on Jan. 10. Simonovic, the former 44th-overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, will have his non-guaranteed deal fully guaranteed on July 7. Forward Derrick Jones Jr. declined his player option last week.

Projected Salary Cap

The NBA’s projected salary cap for the 2023-24 season was expected to rise by 8.4% to $134 million, according to a September article from the Associated Press. Its Luxury Tax Threshold, which “serves as an extra charge for teams that spend more on their payroll,” according to Forbes, was expected to rise by 7.8% to $162 million.

Vucevic agreed to re-sign with the Magic on a four-year, $100 million contract in 2019. The cap figures of the 10 players who can potentially return, including the estimated $20 million per year on Vucevic’s contract extension, add up to a total of just under $138.9 million for the 2023-24 season. They would be just over $23.1 million below the old projected luxury tax threshold with a few key players left to re-sign.

The NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement, however, won’t make things too easy for spending teams to go too far over the luxury tax limit.

The NBA implemented two new “apron” levels above its luxury tax line in its new CBA, according to an April article from ESPN.

“The new CBA introduces two ‘apron’ levels above the luxury tax line, where teams have to deal with not only harsher luxury tax penalties but also restrictions on what they can do with their rosters,” the article read. “For 2023-24, the salary cap is projected to be $134 million, and the luxury tax line is set to be $162 million.

“The first apron is set at $7 million above the luxury tax level in each season of the CBA (so $169 million for 2023-24) and the second apron is set at $17.5 million above the tax threshold (or $179.5 million). In future seasons, all of those numbers will rise at the same rate.”

The new CBA also added a third two-way player spot for each team, according to ESPN.

There is some good news, Bulls fans.

The NBA’s salary cap will come in higher than expected, according to a tweet from Spotrac contributor Keith Smith.

Even with the bump, NBC Sports Chicago Bulls Insider K.C. Johnson remained skeptical of whether Chicago can re-sign its core players and stay under the luxury tax.

“Even with this $3M bump, hard to envision Bulls re-signing Vucevic, White and Dosunmu and using full MLE without entering tax,” Johnson wrote in a tweet last week. “That’s assuming both Derrick Jones Jr. and Andre Drummond pick up player options, as both have said, and obviously depends on salaries for own FAs.” 

Whether it seems like it or not, Chicago has options even after Vucevic’s return.

The new amounts means it will be just over $26.1 million under the luxury tax threshold a few days before the start of free agency. Chicago still has its Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level and, as more of a last resort, its Bi-Annual exceptions to work with for the 2023 offseason.

The Bulls could still find a quality starter or backup with either exception in free agency. Chicago signed Caruso to a four-year, $37 million contract that took up most of the team’s Mid-Level exception at the time, according to a 2021 article from The Athletic freelance writer Rob Schaefer.

Chicago still has some time before free agency starts on June 30.

All we can do is patiently wait to see how things turn out.


Alex Sabri is a General Assignment Contributor for

The 23-year-old writer is an Associate Editor for ClutchPoints and a Sports News Contributor for Yardbarker. He has just over 2.25 years of previous collegiate and professional sports and local journalism experience. He specializes in the NBA, WNBA, NFL, college football and basketball. 

You can find him on Twitter at @asabri012.

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