Disgruntled Nikola Mirotic gets his wish as the Bulls trade him to New Orleans
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PORTLAND, Ore. — Nikola Mirotic finally got what he wanted Thursday afternoon.
More importantly, so did the Bulls.
According to vice president of basketball operations John Paxson, the Bulls traded Mirotic and a second-round pick to the Pelicans for a first-round pick, Omer Asik, Tony Allen and Jameer Nelson.
Paxson said that Nelson and Asik will meet the team Friday in Los Angeles, but with the trade deadline still a week away, expect more activity from the front office. If the Bulls keep Asik, they will take on an $11.3 million salary next season, but he has only a $3 million guarantee for the 2019-20 season. Allen and Nelson have expiring contracts.
The first-round pick the Bulls acquired is a protected top-five pick, but with the Pelicans sitting at 27-23 and in a playoff spot, they would have to have a catastrophic meltdown for that to come into play. If the Pelicans do self-destruct and finish in the top five in the lottery, the Bulls would get a protected 2019 pick.
“I’m not going to get into what offers were out there,’’ Paxson said. “I will tell you that the draft asset we acquired in this deal was far and away the best thing we had got. It’s just consistent with the direction and plan that we talked about this summer on draft night when we made the trade.’’
A win-win for both teams, as it was never a matter of if Mirotic would be traded, but rather when.
Even before the Oct. 17 practice altercation with teammate Bobby Portis, there were hard feelings between Mirotic and his teammates.
Rather than spending the summer working out with the rebuilt Bulls, Mirotic — then a restricted free agent — made the decision to work on his body. That meant working alone. That didn’t sit well with many, especially when he was named the starter near the end of training camp.
Back in December, he told the Sun-Times that those teammates needed to get over it.
“There’s nothing, nothing I would change right now,’’ Mirotic said. “The guys can think whatever they want, but this is my job, too. This is my position, and to be honest, I’m not being like I don’t care what my teammates think, but they have to understand me, too. I’m not regretting any decisions I made this summer.
“I was going in the right direction. I know that because I won my spot and was named the starter, so it means I did something really right this summer.’’
Mirotic never did regain his starting spot, largely because of the emergence of rookie Lauri Markkanen. All of that fed into Mirotic wanting to be elsewhere, especially after the team refused to meet his initial November ultimatum that either he or Portis had to go.
“Niko’s representatives were consistent over the last several months that they wanted him moved,’’ Paxson said. “They never backed off that stance one bit. I’m sure given everything we heard throughout this entire process is this satisfies what he wanted. More than that, it satisfies what we wanted to get out of it in moving him. It fits our timeline. It fits the direction we’re going.’’
After missing almost six weeks of the season, Mirotic returned on Dec. 8 in Charlotte. The Bulls were sitting at 3-20 at the time, and Mirotic guaranteed the winning would start because “Niko’s back.’’
It definitely did with seven-consecutive wins and a 10-3 record for the rest of December.
And Mirotic chewed it all up, constantly reminding the media it was no coincidence that the Bulls started playing better once he returned, basically ignoring the eye rolls from teammates along the way.
Even playing well didn’t satisfy Mirotic, however.
He publicly expressed disappointment with his teammates following a Dec. 27 win against New York because he got only four shots. Then he was unhappy with the coaching staff because of playing time both on Jan. 20 against Atlanta and the next game in New Orleans.
Yes, he played the role of good soldier, but it was obvious to many in the locker room that it was always about showcasing his talents for his next team.
The Pelicans became that team, and he now will be reunited with former Bull Rajon Rondo, whom he called “the best teammate I ever had.’’
MIROTIC’s CAREER WITH BULLS
June 2011 – The Bulls acquired the rights to Nikola Mirotic after he was selected 23rd overall by the Houston Rockets and then sent to Minnesota. He was playing for Real Madrid, and the Bulls were patient in keeping him there.
October 29, 2014 – Mirotic made his NBA debut in a win against New York. He played 15 minutes and scored five points.
March 2015 – Mirotic finished second to Minnesota’s Andrew Wiggins in rookie of the year voting thanks to a March showing in which he led the NBA in fourth-quarter scoring.
January 27, 2016 – An emergency appendectomy turned into a nightmare after he had to have a second surgery to remove a hematoma. He was sidelined until Mar. 5.
March 2017 – Mirotic lost his rotation spot, getting three consecutive DNP-Coach’s Decision. He was put back in the rotation on Mar. 13, scoring 24 points in a win.
Summer 2017 – Mirotic, a restricted free agent, makes the decision to work on his body, adding 20 pounds of muscle, but he did so on his own, away from teammates and their daily pick-up games at the Advocate Center.
October 17, 2017 – Bobby Portis punches Mirotic in the face during a practice altercation, breaking two bones and putting Mirotic in the concussion protocol.
November 2017 – Mirotic starts coming around the facility when no one is around to workout, but the Sun-Times reports he and his representation issued an ultimatum to the Bulls that either he or Portis had to go.
December 8, 2017 – Mirotic returns to the court against Charlotte and instantly makes an impact, leading the 3-20 Bulls to seven consecutive wins. Asked why the team turned it around, Mirotic boldly declared, “Because Niko’s back.’’
December 11, 2017 – Mirotic and Portis high-five in a win over Boston but never make amends about the punching incident.
December 27, 2017 – The Bulls beat New York, but Mirotic publicly calls out his teammates for not getting him the ball more.
January 20, 2018 – Mirotic was unhappy with his 20 minutes of playing time in a win against Atlanta.
January 22, 2018 – Again angry with playing time, Mirotic privately vents and lets it be known that he still wants to be elsewhere.
February 1, 2018 – After initially turning down a deal to New Orleans because he has a no-trade clause and wants his 2018-19 option guaranteed, Mirotic’s wishes are met, and he is dealt to the Pelicans.
Follow me on Twitter @suntimes_hoops.