The rumors around Nikola Mirotic
"The No. 1 thing right now... is continue to go out and worry about the things that you can control" - Coach Fred Hoiberg
Apparently the Bulls and New Orleans Pelicans are not quite ready to laissez les bons temps rouler for Nikola Mirotic.
The good times apparently will just have to continue to roll in Portland Wednesday when the Bulls play the Trailblazers.
Hold the reservation at K-Paul's.
That's because despite a flurry of late morning informed reports, rumors, predictions and speculation about an imminent trade, the day passed Tuesday with Mirotic boarding the Bulls charter and the pralines perhaps only on the long flight to Portland.
It turned out that it was teammates Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen who didn't make the flight. They are not being traded. Dunn remains out with a concussion while Markkanen is home with a family matter that is not a medical emergency. It remains unclear if either will join the team Saturday against the Los Angeles Clippers or Monday in Sacramento.
So that starting lineup Wednesday, coach Fred Hoiberg?
"I don't know," said Hoiberg.
It's not that unusual around trade deadline in the NBA, which this season is coming early in less than two weeks, Feb. 8. Already, there have been major shakeups with the Detroit Pistons Monday acquiring All-Star Blake Griffin in a deal that appears to portend a "retool" for the Los Angeles Clippers, not unlike what the Bulls went through trading Jimmy Butler. The Clippers now are expected to try to trade DeAndre Jordan, Lou Williams and most anyone else to miss the playoffs. They also get Detroit's draft pick this season as long as it is not top four in the lottery.
"Obviously a great player, all-star caliber guy that is a very versatile guy that can play multiple positions," Hoiberg said about Griffin. "He's shooting the heck out of the ball this year. He's really added that three-point element to his game. So really good pickup for Detroit. But I thought it was good for the Clippers as well. I thought they got a couple really good players and also getting the first round and second round draft pick is big."
With the pursuit of draft picks an increasing priority around the NBA, there have been trade rumors circling around many players. Already, Milwaukee acquired Eric Bledsoe for Greg Monroe. So Hoiberg said he has spoken with the players about this anxious time.
"The No. 1 thing right now, we've talked about it all along, is continue to go out and worry about the things that you can control," Hoiberg said Tuesday before Bulls practice. "That's playing hard and giving great effort and preparing yourself the right way."
And then the rumors smashed through the media dam.
Mirotic was seen leaving the practice floor, where he was shooting around but not scheduled to practice because of a sore leg. He didn't practice Monday. Mirotic spoke briefly with Hoiberg, and then Hoiberg spoke with reporters, though he was vague. It was understandable a few minutes later when the reports came from various media outlets.
"Will Mirotic practice?"
Hoiberg: "We'll see."
Will Niko travel? Hoiberg: "We're still evaluating that. I would anticipate that he would."
What happened to him? Hoiberg: "He's got a little bit of an issue that's going on with his lower leg. But nothing that's going to be long term. He's doing better. He's feeling better. We'll see how he progresses throughout the day."
It seemed, according to those reports, Mirotic was about to boogie on down to New Orleans in the wake of the DeMarcus "Boogie" Cousins season ending Achilles injury.
As soon as that occurred last week, speculation began that Mirotic could be a target of the Pelicans. That's because even with the loss of All-Star Cousins, the belief was the Pelicans still wanted to make a run for the playoffs to accommodate Anthony Davis.
Mirotic was a likely target given his perimeter shooting ability and uncertainty with the Bulls.
But trade deadline is fluid and now Kevin Love will be out a substantial time for the Cleveland Cavaliers and John Wall will be out approximately two months for the Washington Wizards. Those teams will need scoring with those players lost. Would they give up draft picks? Particularly Cleveland, which owns a pick this season from the lottery bound Brooklyn Nets. This continues to get more interesting.
Since the October altercation with Bobby Portis in which Mirotic missed 23 games, Mirotic and Portis have not spoken. They've played well as teammates coming off the bench and interacting on the basketball court. But the speculation has been with Mirotic only on a one-year guaranteed contract (second year team option) and the Bulls still in their own retooling, pretty much everyone on the roster except Dunn, Markkanen and Zach LaVine, all three from the Jimmy Butler trade, were vulnerable in potential trades.
Mirotic's name has come up often in speculation because of his fine play combined with the Bulls overall plan to, like the Clippers being the latest, acquire draft picks and probably a place in the 2018 draft lottery. With the Pistons acquisition and the Bulls slumping with Dunn out, a Bulls playoff spot that seemed possible with a December run now seems unlikely.
The Bulls turned around a 3-20 start when Mirotic returned with seven consecutive wins.
Mirotic's scoring has declined some in January. But he's still the Bulls leading scorer at 16.8 per game in 25 games at about 25 minutes per game. He has started three games. Mirotic is second on the Bulls in rebounding at 6.4 per game and is the leading three-point shooter at 42.9 percent. But his contract situation is an issue.
He has a two-year deal at about $25 million. The second season is at the team option. That technically makes it a one-year deal. By league rule, a team cannot trade a player without his permission on a one-year deal. The Bulls could pick up Mirotic's second year option and then could trade him to any team. But most teams near the trade deadline, except with stars like Griffin, want the flexibility of the deal for just this season. The Pelicans are an example because of the potential major financial commitment they would have to make to resign Cousins, which remains a preference.
So it becomes complex to make a trade and match salaries. This is no big easy. It may take some financial voodoo.
But at the same time given the preseason fight and uneasy relationship, the Bulls have to be wary of Mirotic leaving as a free agent without the team being able to recoup something from the investment. Many question why the Clippers resigned Griffin if they ended up trading him so soon. But otherwise they would not have been able to acquire draft picks or players.
So the talks continue throughout the NBA with speculation, reports and never minds likely to continue for the next nine days.
Meanwhile, the games must go on. The Bulls are 18-32 with four straight losses and obviously missing floor general Dunn. Markkanen is the team's second leading scorer and leading rebounder, so the assignment becomes more difficult against a Portland team that won in overtime in the United Center Jan. 1.
"The last two games we've gotten off to such poor starts," Hoiberg noted. "Offensively, we've really struggled, especially early in games. We got back into it against the Lakers. Our second unit was terrific. With new pieces coming in and certain guys out, it's about building that chemistry back up until we get those guys back on the floor with us. Guys are playing different roles. And we have to develop a closer, especially with Kris Dunn out of the lineup. It's going to be some ups and downs as we go through this process. The constant has to be energy. For the most part this year, we've done a really good job of that. The last two games, especially first quarters, we've struggled."
Hoiberg indicated Jerian Grant will start at point guard again with LaVine at shooting guard. Justin Holiday remains at small forward with a new starter at power forward with Robin Lopez at center. No major changes, Hoiberg says.
"I don't think it's time to panic yet," said Hoiberg. "For the most part, our guys have been really, really good with their effort. Our starts, for the most part this year, have been solid. We did switch the way we started the third quarter in Philadelphia. A lot of that was getting David (Nwaba) matched up on Ben Simmons. So it's always something we talk about after we go back and look at the film. But we will start the same way tomorrow."
Though until Feb. 9, change may be the only constant everywhere in the NBA.
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