Is Niko Mirotic rubbing off on his teammates or rubbing them the wrong way?

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NBA locker rooms can be fragile places — some more than others.

That’s what makes the Nikola Mirotic storyline so interesting these days. The Bulls forward basically says whatever is on his mind, like it or not.

Whether it’s ‘‘Niko’s back,’’ ‘‘With me back we have more chances now’’ or expressing his unhappiness because of a lack of touches — such as against the Knicks on Wednesday — it has become Mirotic’s world. The rest of us are just visitors.

‘‘He’s just so confident right now, and I really, truly believe that it’s rubbing off on our entire team,’’ coach Fred Hoiberg said after the Bulls’ victory Friday against the Pacers. ‘‘Just the way he’s going out there and playing with confidence, swagger, it’s been fun.’’


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The real question, however, is whether Mirotic’s confidence is rubbing off on his teammates or simply rubbing them the wrong way. It depends on which Bulls player you talk to.

‘‘We’re not going to let the things he says ruin the team, ruin the team mood or whatever,’’ guard Denzel Valentine said. ‘‘That’s how he feels. He’s a competitor. We can’t take it as he means that derogatory to anybody.

‘‘Of course, he wants to come in and contribute because that’s what he does. So if he feels like he didn’t get the chance to contribute [against the Knicks], then he’s going to speak his mind. That’s the type of person Niko is.’’

The Bulls are willing to deal with it for now, especially because they are 10-2 since Mirotic returned to the lineup.

Asked whether Mirotic is more confident — even cocky — this season than he was in the past, Valentine said, ‘‘Yeah,’’ without hesitation.

Asked whether that was a good thing, he said: ‘‘Well, he’s been showing up and making plays, so . . . He’s definitely helped out a lot

because he’s making shots and playing a lot harder than it appeared last year. He’s sparking some new energy, there’s no doubting that.’’

Mirotic is the Bulls’ leading scorer at 18.1 points a game, is shooting 48 percent from three-point range and has shown he can close out games on both ends of the floor.

More impressive is that it seems to have staying power. When Mirotic was overlooked in games by teammates in the past, he would go MIA for an extended period of time. Instead, he followed the game against the Knicks with 20 shots and 28 points against the Pacers.

‘‘I think if I was in this position last year, I would probably be struggling for a couple of more games,’’ Mirotic said. ‘‘But now it’s my moment, and . . . I’ve been playing great. I can score 20 each game, but it’s not just about scoring. It’s about winning, and that’s what makes me very happy and very confident.

‘‘It’s not that I’m playing good on a team that’s losing; it’s the opposite. That’s where my confidence is coming from.’’

That’s good news for Mirotic and the Bulls. The Sun-Times reported last week that Mirotic still is willing to waive his no-trade clause, and the Bulls are in position to get a more significant return for him compared to his value in the past.

Until then, expect Mirotic to continue speaking his mind.

Follow me on Twitter @suntimes_hoops.


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