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Nikola Mirotic talks about his future, defends Jimmy Butler

Forward Nikola Mirotic can’t believe he has remained this calm.

In the NBA whirlwind of free agency, which began two weeks ago, Mirotic has watched front office after front office burn through cap space, leaving the restricted free agent fewer options as the days go by.

Rather than dwell on his immediate future — whether it’s with the Bulls or elsewhere — Mirotic is letting his agents deal with the business of basketball while he remains focused on the business of Niko.

“I’ve never been more calm than now,’’ Mirotic told the Sun-Times in a phone interview Friday. “I know that sounds weird, but it’s true because I’ve just decided to be really, really focused on myself and working hard through all of this.

‘‘Like I said at the end of the season, my goal was to get really stronger this summer, add some pounds, and the last two months have been great as far as accomplishing that. I wanted to work on my body, add muscle and do what I needed to get better.

“The other stuff is going to take care of itself. I really believe that. Just worry about getting better.’’

Mirotic wants to stay with the Bulls. The Bulls want to keep Mirotic. Both sides have reiterated that.

According to a source, the holdup is the Bulls want the market to set the price for Mirotic, then they’ll decide if they’ll match it. If that offer doesn’t come, then the organization can play some hardball with Mirotic, 26.

Rather than resent the process, Mirotic is working out at the Advocate Center almost daily, using the facilities and coaches. He has as healthy an outlook on things as anyone could ask for. Even he’s a bit surprised that he has remained so composed.

“From three years ago when I came here, I’m the last one left [from that roster],’’ Mirotic said. “That’s crazy because coming from Europe, we’re not used to having that much change like they do here. But it’s all business sometimes, and they’re trying to build the best team they can. It’s crazy when you think about all the changes, but you can’t take it personally. It’s nothing personal. They just want to try to get better. It’s all good.’’

Mirotic did show some emotion when the topic turned to former teammate Jimmy Butler — traded to the Timberwolves on draft night — who has been portrayed by some as a poor leader and a disruption in the locker room.

“To be honest, Jimmy was a great teammate,’’ Mirotic said. “I don’t understand all this [criticism]. I know I never had any issues with him. People like to say that he has issues [with teammates], but that’s not true. Sometimes during practices, I mean, you’re competing against each other and at a high level, so there’s normal stuff that goes on between everybody. But after practice, everything was all great.

“With teammates, Jimmy was always very humble.’’

Humility is a trait Mirotic also has displayed, especially during this free-agent period. He remains hopeful an agreement will be reached with the Bulls.

“Just waiting, staying calm,’’ Mirotic said. “The good thing is both sides are talking. They want this to happen, too. That’s the most important thing. I’m happy they still want me. I’m very happy in Chicago.’’

Follow me on Twitter @suntimes_hoops.



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