Extending Nikola Vucevic is on the table, and probably a must for the Bulls.

Center Nikola Vucevic was an easy target for Bulls fans last season.

At 6-10 and possibly a few summers away from entering dad-bod territory, the fan base’s anger was understandable. Misguided in many ways, but understandable.

After all, Vucevic was considered an important leg of the tripod on which the Bulls’ core was built. And with DeMar DeRozan having an MVP-type season and Zach LaVine still good for 24 points a game, it was Vucevic’s numbers that opened eyes — and not in a good way.

Vucevic averaged 17.6 points, his lowest since the 2017-18 season with the Magic, and his 31.4% shooting from three-point range was his worst since he took over six years ago. I added a long shot.

Forget the fact that Vucevic’s touches were down from the first 28 games of the season with the Bulls and down from his days with the Magic — nearly five fewer shots per game than the 2020-21 season. Fans want production, not excuses.

Then there was his defense. Vucevic was never considered a rim protector, but when the Bulls’ defense-focused backcourt started coming into the training room daily, his defensive shortcomings were on full display, especially in the pick-and-roll.

Vucevic admitted that he was bringing his offensive mistakes to the defensive side of the ball during the first half of last season, and it’s never a good look.

That’s why the Vucevic trade became a hot topic on social media at the start of the offseason.

News flash: Vucevic is still with the Bulls.

And not only is he still with the Bulls, but a source said both sides want him to stay with the team beyond the final year of his contract this coming season and will have early talks about Here’s what it looks like when training camp starts. fell

Why? Because if the price is right, Vucevic remains the type of player that fits with how the Bulls were built on both ends of the floor.

Offensively, he spaces the floor and is a willing playmaker. Defensively, the Bulls have invested in playing defense on the outside. Because of the personnel they have under contract over the next few seasons, it will be difficult to pivot.

“I think we have the talent to match up with all the teams in the East,” Vucevic said at the end of last season. “Nothing happens overnight. Nothing happens in a season. It takes time. As a group, you go through the ups and downs of the year, successes, failures, whatever. All that gives you the opportunity to grow and improve. For us, I think it really could be.

“We believe we have what it takes to be a successful group. All the guys are motivated, so, yeah, I don’t see any reason for us to panic and split the group.”

Especially in a market where options are limited.

Sure, the Bulls could explore a trade, but their draft picks are drying up after acquiring Vucevic two seasons ago and real trade assets are limited. And a look at next summer’s free-agent center class shows 37-year-old Al Horford, the oft-injured Myles Turner and more.

Extending Vucevic to a one-year contract with a player option for the 2024-25 season would make sense for both sides, considering how long Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso’s contracts run.

But that would also be predicated on Vucevic becoming a 39% three-point shooter, as well as playing a little more physically on defense.

If it doesn’t, expect fans to continue to build trade sentiment.

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