Nikola Mirotic still wants out; Bulls able to escape New York with a victory
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NEW YORK — Nikola Mirotic doesn’t appear to have the stomach to remain with the Bulls.
A source close to the situation told the Sun-Times on Wednesday that Mirotic remains hopeful that he’ll be traded soon, and he has even told Bulls management where he’d like to play through his representatives.
Mirotic has a no-trade clause, but that would be voided if the Bulls pick up the team option for next season.
The source said both sides have remained professional throughout the process, but they feel they’ve reached an impasse when it comes to repairing the damage caused in the Oct. 17 practice altercation in which Mirotic was punched in the face by Bobby Portis.
The Jazz, Pistons, Knicks and Trail Blazers reportedly have inquired about an asking price for Mirotic. The Bulls are holding firm on their demand for a first-round pick.
“The conversations Niko and I have had are just about basketball and continuing to play well,’’ coach Fred Hoiberg said of the trade talk. “You look at our record since he’s been back in the lineup — we’re [11-6] with Niko out there on the floor — and we’ve played some really good basketball. A lot of that is because of Niko’s confidence and approach, and we just want him to continue to be that way and be a positive influence on this team.’’
Out with a stomach virus, Mirotic missed the Bulls’ 122-119 double-overtime victory against the Knicks.
Mirotic, 26, was in such bad shape that he didn’t make it to the morning shootaround and stayed at the team hotel until after the game started. He eventually made it to Madison Square Garden to meet with doctors.
For the second consecutive game, the Bulls (15-27) had to deal with life without Mirotic, which could become permanent in the upcoming weeks.
Even with the victory, the Bulls are only 4-21 when Mirotic doesn’t play.
Luckily for Hoiberg, rookie Lauri Markkanen picked up the slack, scoring a game-high 33 points, including a highlight-reel dunk in the third quarter in which he blew by former Bull Doug McDermott, then put New York’s Enes Kanter on a poster with a one-handed slam. The usually stoic big man even displayed some emotion.
“I didn’t know if [Kanter] was coming or not, so I thought I would go for it,’’ Markkanen said. “I didn’t know where [the emotion] came from.’’
Hoiberg sure did.
“I damn near passed out when he dunked that one coming down in transition,’’ Hoiberg said. “That was unbelievable. Just to see attack in transition.’’
In the second overtime, neither team looked especially sharp, but Markkanen put the Bulls up by three with six seconds left, and when Jarrett Jack’s prayer wasn’t answered at the horn, the Bulls escaped New York with the victory.
“To come in on the big stage, the world’s most famous arena, to hit eight threes and play against arguably as good a power forward as there is in this league in [Kristaps] Porzingis [is impressive],’’ Hoiberg said. “To play 46 minutes, then hit the big free throws late just tells you everything you need to know about Lauri.’’
Follow me on Twitter @suntimes_hoops.