Are these Nikola Mirotic’s last nine games in a Bulls uniform?

SHARE Are these Nikola Mirotic’s last nine games in a Bulls uniform?
SHARE Are these Nikola Mirotic’s last nine games in a Bulls uniform?

Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic doesn’t know how the offseason is going to play out.

In fact, the free agent-to-be has been doing his best not to think about it by trying to stay focused on the present. After all, the present is something Mirotic can control.

With nine games left in the Bulls’ regular season and a spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs still up for grabs, Mirotic knows Jimmy Butler needs help. His hope is that he can provide that help in what might be his last nine games in a Bulls uniform.

‘‘I know we can’t do this without Niko,’’ Butler said of the Bulls’ playoff chances. ‘‘He’s been our most consistent [shooter] the last few weeks.’’

It’s just another reminder of the strange season Mirotic has gone through in his third year in the NBA.

Two weeks ago, Mirotic appeared to hit rock bottom. He was put on the inactive list after not even playing in back-to-back games and thought he was done with the Bulls.

But injuries and the realization that the younger players weren’t ready for a playoff push forced coach Fred Hoiberg to go back to Mirotic, and the results have been good. Mirotic has averaged 15.6 points in his last seven games and has given Butler a partner in the drive-and-kick game.

So does Mirotic’s recent play have the Bulls thinking differently about letting him become a free agent this summer?

‘‘I can pretty much promise you every team we play against has to game-plan for a guy like that,’’ Hoiberg said of Mirotic. ‘‘Do you switch? Do you push down and switch? There’s a lot of different ways to play a spacing four-man like that.

‘‘Hopefully he’ll finish strong, then when free agency hits we’ll see what happens. But I really like Niko. He’s been through ups and downs this year, but he’s playing some of his best basketball of the season right now.’’

How important is Mirotic to the Bulls’ success? In their victories, he has averaged 11.6 points and has shot 35 percent from three-point range. In their losses, he has averaged 8.2 points and has shot 28 percent from three-point range.

The good news for the Bulls is that as badly as Mirotic has been yanked around this season, going from being a rotation guy to being out of the rotation to being a starter, he would love nothing more than to stay with the team beyond this season.

‘‘I don’t want to prove to the rest of the teams anything,’’ Mirotic said when he was asked about the last nine games being an audition for free agency. ‘‘I just want to prove to the guys that trust in me, the Chicago Bulls. They waited for me [to come over from Spain]. They gave me a chance. . . . So I want to play well here.

‘‘Whether I’m going to be here or not next year . . . at least I want to give my best, try and play well and try to make this team get to the playoffs. That’s the most important thing to me: Have a good finish. Not an individual finish, but a good finish for the team.’’

Follow me on Twitter @suntimes_hoops.

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com

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