The Golden State Warriors thought they were through with Nikola Vucevic for the season.
One trade later and the big guy will be making an unexpected second visit to San Francisco on Monday night with a new team, the Chicago Bulls.
The Bulls and Warriors enter their second and final head-to-head of the season saddled with losing streaks that have caused a drop in playoff positioning. Both teams sit 10th in their respective conferences due in large part to the Bulls having lost three in a row and the Warriors four straight.
Chicago continued its skid with a 120-104 loss at San Antonio on Saturday to tip off a four-game trip. The Bulls also will see two of the West’s top clubs, Phoenix and Utah, before trip’s end as they have just begun a stretch of nine of 10 on the road.
If there was a positive in the loss to the Spurs, it was the Bulls debut of Vucevic, who had 21 points and nine rebounds in 32 minutes.
Zach LaVine, who has carried a heavy load for Chicago this season and now has a gimpy ankle to show for it, is more than glad to share the spotlight moving forward in the club’s playoff push.
“He’s a helluva player, and I’ve heard a lot of great things about him off the court as well,” LaVine gushed upon getting the news of the acquisition. “I’m looking forward to getting to know him.”
Added Vucevic, “On the court, I think our games fit each other. A lot that Zach likes to do, I can help him with that. He can help me with a lot of things. I think our two-man game can be very good.”
In order to acquire the high-scoring center, the Bulls had to part with Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr. and two first-round draft picks. They were sent to Orlando, with the Magic packaging Al-Farouq Aminu with Vucevic in return.
Aminu also made his Bulls’ debut in San Antonio, accumulating two points and five rebounds off the bench in 12 minutes.
Vucevic’s first visit to Golden State in February resulted in 25 points and 13 rebounds in a narrow Magic defeat.
He was even better — 30 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists — in recording his third career triple-double in a rematch eight days later, a game Orlando won.
The Warriors had Stephen Curry to help offset Vucevic in those games, with the All-Star guard averaging 34.5 in the split.
Curry is not expected to face the Bulls, which would be his sixth straight absence with a bruised tailbone. The Warriors are 1-6 this season without him.
Curry insisted that his teammates “look at themselves in the mirror” in a pregame speech before Friday’s 124-108 home loss to Atlanta.
“Steph gave us some good words in the locker room,” Kevon Looney said afterward. “It’s good to hear his voice because he’s a calming factor for us on the court. He hasn’t been there to give us that direction.”
The Warriors have beaten the Bulls five straight at home and seven in a row overall. Curry had 36 points and Damion Lee nailed a buzzer-beating 3-pointer in a 129-128 win at Chicago that gave Golden State its first win of the season after two losses in December.
–Field Level Media