The NBA is a relationships-based business.
Well, as it turns out, Nikola Vučević also played an outsized part in DeRozan choosing the Bulls in what the four-time All-Star called the first true free agency of his professional career.
“It really came from Vučević,” DeRozan said in a recent appearance on No Chill with Gilbert Arenas when asked which players from the Bulls recruited him to the team. “That was my man for years, even when he was in Orlando, we always was trying to figure out, like, ‘We need to play together, we need to play together.’
“Lot of times it would be like, you know, BS… But when the opportunity presented itself after he got traded to Chicago, we had a conversation during the season when we played them late in the season. It was like, ‘Look, you’re a free agent, let’s see what we can do,’ you know what I mean? And I’m like, ‘I’mma keep that on my radar.’
“And as things transpired it just started making more and more sense. Then having my conversation with Zach (LaVine) and just everything else from there fell into place.”
Vučević and DeRozan were college teammates at USC during the 2008-09 season, leading a team that finished 22-13 and a second-round out in the NCAA Tournament. DeRozan entered the NBA Draft after the campaign, going ninth overall to the Toronto Raptors. Vučević was drafted 16th overall by the Philadelphia 76ers in 2011.
Each grew into All-Star performers at their separate NBA stops — DeRozan in Toronto and San Antonio, Vučević with the Magic before being acquired by the Bulls at the 2021 trade deadline.
Now, they’re reunited in Chicago, thanks, it appears, in no small part to the bond they formed in college that has endured for north of a decade.
Don’t forget, too, that LaVine and Vučević share an agency. Or that LaVine and Lonzo Ball, who DeRozan has also spoken highly of, share UCLA ties, albeit from different eras.
These are far from the only factors that go into trade or free-agency calculuses. DeRozan has cited the city of Chicago, Bulls’ brand and roster talent as other appealing factors. Money matters too. But it’s all a part of the game.
And, from March 2021 through this offseason, the Bulls have played that game aggressively, with a proactive Vučević at the center of this seismic transaction.