Nikola Mirotic thought he was a pelican. But when the seven footer with the imposing wingspan awoke Wednesday in Portland, he still was a bull. But he wasn’t crying fowl.
“I said to myself, ‘It’s happening. It’s happening. It could happen,’” Mirotic told reporters after Bulls morning practice in Portland abut reports Tuesday he might be traded to the New Orleans Pelicans. “That’s the only thing that popped into my head. I said, ‘OK, be calm. Wait. Do what they told you to do. Step off the court.’ I was doing some calls to my agent and my family. That’s all. The thing I want is the best for me and my future in the NBA. And I’m sure the Bulls are doing what’s the best for them, too.
“I just want to enjoy playing basketball, that's all I want, all I need,” Mirotic said. “So far I've been enjoying playing basketball. It's been really fun for me. The best basketball in my NBA career so far and that's my only goal. It's been day by day. Practice hard and improving myself. Consistency, that's my goal. The rest, it's not important. The media is writing what they think and hear. I’m doing my job. I’m comfortable with my teammates. I’m getting great support here. Obviously, it could happen any moment. I’m concerned about everybody here. The only thing I can do for myself and help my teammates is just be focused in the practices and games. If it happens, it happens.
“If I’m here tonight, I want to win tonight,” said Mirotic. “That’s all I want.”
Mirotic will not play for the Bulls Wednesday night in Portland. Coach Fred Hoiberg initially said after practice Mirotic would play. Later in the afternoon, the Bulls decided not to play Mirotic as they apparently engage in other trade talks. Paul Zipser will start for Lauri Markkanen, who remained back in Chicago with a personal issue. Kris Dunn also stayed home. The Bulls said he is suffering from flu after his concussion.
And so the Mirotic story, which blew up earlier this season after he was punched by Bobby Portis and missed six weeks, unofficially moved into the saga stage amidst the Tuesday trade reports.
Mirotic confirmed at least the reports of talks were accurate as he said his representatives contacted him Tuesday and asked him not to practice. Mirotic said he discussed it with Hoiberg and then didn’t practice, but when discussions apparently broke off, he joined the team to fly to Portland for the first of the three-game trip.
Media reports were that Mirotic didn’t give his permission for the trade, which he must do unless the Bulls agree to his second year option on his contract. Reportedly, the Pelicans with DeMarcus Cousins hurt wanted to add Mirotic. But just for the rest of the season because they intend to negotiate a new contract with Cousins after the season.
The reports were if Mirotic agrees to a trade without the second year option, he would lose his so called Bird rights for a team to pay him and go over the salary cap. Then a team would have to be under the salary cap to sign him as a free agent. Apparently if he’s traded, he would prefer a team that would guarantee at least that second season at $12.5 million.
Mirotic was open and conversational with reporters in nearly 10 minutes of questions after practice. Though some questions came at him in an accusatory manner, he remained composed and friendly. But he declined to discuss specific details of any trade proposals or his or his agents’ response.
“It was an option with New Orleans,” Mirotic said. “That’s all I heard. I said, ‘OK, you guys (agents) can think and see what’s the best for me.’ We’re going to make a decision, but we don’t have to rush to make a decision. This happened yesterday. It’s not even 24 hours. It’s nothing to do that fast.""
“I'm not gonna talk about the trade,” Mirotic added. “The only thing I'm gonna talk about is playing tonight; that's the only thing I can do. The only thing I know so far is I practiced with the team and I'm gonna be available to play. I don't know if something changed today through the day.”
Mirotic said he is acting as a team with his representatives about his future.
The proposed trade as rumored was to have former Bull Omer Asik and a first round pick coming to the Bulls. Though Mirotic is the Bulls leading scorer, the altercation with Portis apparently remains an issue even if they seem to play well together. Also, the Bulls remain uncertain whether they can resign Mirotic, who has expressed a desire to be a starting player.
“We're discussing, we're thinking,” Mirotic said about he and his agents regarding proposals. “I'm sure they're gonna make the best decision for me. I'm just doing my job, which is playing good. My representatives, they're doing their job. I have confidence they're gonna do the best they can and they'll do what's best for me. I told them if there's some news talk to me and nobody talked to me this morning.
“The good thing, I have the option,” Mirotic said about NBA rules his right to veto any trade if his second year option isn’t picked up. “I'm making it together with my (management) team. They've been fighting for me all this year. We're not sure yet, what we're gonna do. Until then, let's play basketball. I don’t need to think about New Orleans now. Until the last day or minute I’m wearing the Bulls jersey, I’m thinking about the Bulls.
Hoiberg said it’s the NBA trade deadline; business as usual.
“After talking to John (Paxson) and Gar (Forman), we determined that the best thing to do was for Niko to not practice and to talk to his representation and go from there,” said Hoiberg about the events of Tuesday morning. “Obviously, Niko's on this trip and it's my job to try to put our team in a position to compete, in a position to win, and we'll continue to do that. Niko will play tonight. He'll be in the same role coming off the bench.
“Niko was very energetic and was really good in our shootaround this morning,” Hoiberg said. “I think for me, my thing is right now my job is to get these guys to go out there and play with good intensity and effort. Hopefully we'll be back to that tonight. These guys, all year long, through all the ups and downs, they've been coming in with a businesslike approach and they've been a joy to deal with. I don't anticipate anything different in tonight's game. Our shootaround was really sharp this morning, and hopefully that carries over to the game. You look at what we've done with Niko. We’ve had some pretty good lineups and combinations out there. So he's come in and done a really good job. He's played well, he's played together with our guys and hopefully he'll continue with that.”