Bulls ‘Big Three’ knows time is running out on making a playoff run

Nikola Vucevic doesn’t have a history of throwing out wild statements.

The Bulls big man is usually very calculated, or at the least matter of fact.

So in the wake of shutting the door on a 1-4 preseason and getting ready for the start of the 2023-24 NBA campaign, Vucevic was discussing the reality of this Bulls roster – specifically the “Big Three’’ of himself, Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan.

“This is probably our last shot to make something happen and we’re aware of that,’’ Vucevic said. “It’s on us to deliver.’’

And if they don’t?

LaVine is in Year 2 of a max deal that will escalate up to a $48.9 million player option in the 2026-27 season, but still remains a rumored trade candidate, even with the new looming CBA making high-priced player movement a bit more difficult.

Vucevic just re-upped with the Bulls this past summer, and did so at a very reasonable three years, $60 million. While the Bulls can’t – and won’t – look to move him until at least the trade deadline, he is the ideal finishing piece for a playoff team needing a versatile big.

Then there’s DeRozan, who entered this season in the final year of his deal with the Bulls. Both sides said that talks about an extension were ongoing, but a source said expect the dialogue to stay that way as the front office wants to get a clear picture of how this team is playing through the first half of the season.

The good news for Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas is that this is not a James Harden situation in the slightest.

DeRozan has always been the consummate pro, never asking for a trade or publicly demanding more money.

While there is already trade speculation about DeRozan floating around, it’s not coming from the veteran forward or his camp.

“If I sign up for anything, my goal is to finish whatever I sign up for,’’ DeRozan told the Sun-Times last season. “That’s with anything in life. I signed up to be a father, not just a part-time father. I treat everything I do that way.

“I mean, 14 years in my career, I’ve never talked about a trade, asked for a trade, anything. So when I see something like (trade rumors), I try to make fun of it more than anything.’’

He can definitely poke fun at them for now, but all indications are the Bulls will look to actively pull the plug on their “Big Three’’ if the first half of the season falls on hard times.

Would that entail simply moving DeRozan or would it be a bigger purge than that?

Way too early to tell, especially with no dance partners for a trade willing to take the ballroom floor with the regular season just tipping off.

The best way for DeRozan, Vucevic and LaVine to keep their names out of the rumor mill is pretty simple – play well and do that from the start.

Therein lies the concern.

While the preseason is often fool’s gold when judging a team, the Bulls showed some serious growing pains in trying to find their way in this new-look offense, while keep the defense a strength of the team.

Most of the warts will iron themselves out when the games matter, but the two major concerns were can the Bulls generate – and make – more three pointers, and will they become more versatile offensively by using Vucevic and understanding the importance of off-the-ball actions?

Even Vucevic was anxious to find that out.

“I think we’ve taken some good steps in areas we’ve talked about, especially offensively playing with more pace, better ball movement and movement in general,’’ Vucevic said of the preseason. “Preseason it’s hard to judge because some teams don’t play all their guys. I think there have been some positive steps, so continue to build and get to where we want to get.’’

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