Nikola Mirotic’s days with the Bulls have all but come to an end

BOSTON — The pause said it all.

Before the game against the Celtics, Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic was asked if it would’ve been better if he had been traded before the deadline.

“No,’’ he finally said. “I really wanted to stay. I came to Chicago because I wanted to play here. They drafted me. They did everything they’re supposed to do. For me, it was like another opportunity after the [Feb. 23] deadline. I really was focused. I was working hard to be the first guy in the weight room, and I was working on some extra shots, doing everything I was supposed to do to be ready.

“But they made the decision that’s been made. It’s been hard.’’

It got harder against the Celtics. Mirotic, who was out of the rotation the previous two games, was inactive Sunday.

So why the long pause in his response?

“I want to answer the right thing really, the truth,’’ Mirotic said. “I know my wife wanted to stay, too, so it’s both of us. We love Chicago. But we know why we’re here in the States — because I want to play basketball.

“This season has been hard. It’s been very difficult for me to find a way to enjoy the game. There are a lot of reasons. One of the reasons is me, too. I understand that. I only hope that right now we can win some games and be in the playoffs and be ready there for whatever they want from me.’’

They obviously want very little at this point.

Not that Mirotic, 26, should be completely surprised. In the last year of his contract, he had to realize this would be a make-or-break season. But his defense continued to be an issue, and after losing out to Taj Gibson for a starting spot in training camp, he slowly but steadily started slipping in the rotation.

The Bulls dangled Mirotic but didn’t find a deal they were comfortable with. They sent Gibson and Doug McDermott to Oklahoma City, however, apparently giving Mirotic new life.

He initially ran with it, totaling 34 points in victories over the Suns and Cavaliers after the deadline, but with the front office publicly insisting it wanted to see the younger players develop and with no plans for Mirotic beyond this season, he has become just another body.

“It’s been difficult for me to understand, to be in this situation,’’ Mirotic said.

He has spoken to coach Fred Hoiberg about it but didn’t sound pleased with the explanation.

“[Hoiberg] told me I’m out of the rotation,’’ Mirotic said, “that I need to stay ready, but he didn’t give me any expectation on when I can play. Just stay ready. So I’m like, I know I’m ready. I know I can help those guys. Of course, I’ve been inconsistent, but that’s been the whole team up and down. To be in this kind of situation — out of the rotation — doesn’t make sense for me.

“I asked him what I can do to get back, what I can do to be in the rotation, what I should do differently. It looks like he wants to give an opportunity to the new guy on the team, [Joffrey] Lauvergne, and I just need to be ready. He said maybe there will come a time where I will get another chance.’’


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