Bulls big man Nikola Vucevic didn’t sign up for this.
When he agreed to a three-year, $60 million extension in July, it was under the assumption that the offense was going to be tweaked before the season, and he would play a bigger role .
But there he was during the season opener Wednesday, watching teammates put up sometimes questionable shots midway through the second quarter and into the third as a once-close game dissolved into a laugher.
Almost 12 minutes between field goals was only one of the reasons he finally had heated words with coach Billy Donovan in the third quarter. It was a stunning turn because the offense was clicking early in the game.
In the first quarter, the Bulls gave the Thunder all they could handle, putting up 35 points. Vucevic scored six points, went 3-for-4 from the field and had an assist. He did get off a three-pointer, but the damage was being done inside with Vucevic playing bully ball against lanky rookie Chet Holmgren.
And when Vucevic wasn’t attacking the rim, he was playing inside-out, skipping the ball to teammates for three-point shots. Basically, it was the kind of basketball Donovan stressed the Bulls needed to play to improve their shot profile from last season.
Being rewarded with a dry spell of touches was not what Vucevic expected, but much like in his previous two seasons with the Bulls, it happened again.
Thus the words between coach and player, then the impromptu players meeting in the locker room after the game.
“Very constructive [meeting],’’ Vucevic said. “It was needed. I think we can really use this to learn and change some things we need to change.’’
Vucevic hopes that change begins Friday against the Raptors with his teammates trusting the offense to run through him a bit more, especially when things start to bog down.
In the back of his mind, though, was he concerned that things won’t change?
“No, no, every issue is fixable,’’ Vucevic said. “We talked about it. We’re all aware of it, and we just gotta fix it. It’s been addressed, and now it’s on us to find ways for this team to play good basketball.’’
Not many of his teammates disagreed.
While it might have felt like that there was some finger-pointing going on Wednesday, the players spent Thursday watching film and trying to fix the issues but taking nothing personally. Donovan stressed that the film session wasn’t based solely on getting the ball to Vucevic, but it highlighted missed opportunities and poor decision-making throughout the game.
Forward DeMar DeRozan admitted that Vucevic had every right to be frustrated.
“That’s on us to understand and recognize that when we’re playing against teams, there are going to be games where we can exploit certain matchups,’’ DeRozan said. “That’s on us to be able to recognize that in real time. Going to Vooch, feeding the big man, make them make a decision on him, and we’ll get a lot of easy things off that.
“That was an opportunity where we could have punished [the Thunder] with Vooch. I definitely get it. None of it is taken as a negative. One thing about it is none of it is from a selfish standpoint at all. [Vucevic was] right. I agree with him, and we all agree with him.’’
DeRozan was hoping that the issue wouldn’t have to be addressed again, especially in the wake of an embarrassing loss.
“I just know we won’t let it happen again,’’ DeRozan said.