Nikola Mirotic’s play might lead to the ticket out of town he wants
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There is no questioning Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic’s intelligence. He recently added Greek to the handful of languages he speaks.
When Mirotic was asked last week about learning Greek, he replied: ‘‘It’s a hard language, so why not?’’
Mirotic now is fluent in Serbian, Greek, Spanish, English and passive-aggressiveness. It’s the last one he has displayed masterfully in the last two weeks.
To say Mirotic has walked the fine line between being a team guy and sounding like the ultimate self-promoter since making his season debut Dec. 8 is an understatement.
One minute he’ll praise the Bulls, like he did after their road victory Friday against the Bucks, saying: ‘‘We are finding the right guy in the right
moment and sharing the ball.’’
The next minute, he makes sure everyone associated with the Bulls knows the team is 5-0 since his return, often saying, ‘‘Niko’s back,’’ after victories.
Mirotic, 26, didn’t show that kind of confidence in his first three NBA seasons. But now he is betting on himself and, so far, winning big.
The incident between Mirotic and teammate Bobby Portis on Oct. 17 has been well-publicized. The two had words, Mirotic made what was deemed to be an aggressive move and Portis punched him, sending him to the hospital with two broken bones in his face and a concussion.
During Mirotic’s seven-week recovery, his representatives let the Bulls’ front office know either Portis had to go or Mirotic would be willing to waive his no-trade clause so he could be dealt.
When vice president John Paxson insisted the Bulls would do what was best for them and wouldn’t be pressured into making a deal, Mirotic could have dragged the ugliness on. Instead, he said the right things and took a different approach: If he couldn’t demand his way out of the organization, maybe he could play his way out.
Since rejoining the roster, Mirotic has turned in five solid outings — including 24 points against the Celtics, 29 against the Jazz and 22 against the Bucks — in five victories for a team that had lost 10 games in a row before he returned.
Mirotic is playing with an aggressiveness not seen from him in his first three seasons and is getting the job done on both ends of the court.
‘‘I have really good confidence in myself right now,’’ Mirotic said. ‘‘Like I’ve said a couple of times, winning games and me returning is not coincidence.’’
Has he endeared himself to teammates? Maybe not. But Mirotic last week told the Sun-Times that while he respects his teammates, the idea that he rubbed some the wrong way because he focused on his own improvement during the offseason rather than on working out with the team is something they need to get over.
‘‘The guys can think whatever they want, but this is my job, too,’’ Mirotic said.
Lately, his job has been showcasing his skill set and making himself a more valuable trade asset for the front office.
If he can keep playing the way he is, the Bulls even might be able to get a late-first-round pick if they decide to trade him.
That would be a victory for both sides, something that Mirotic can tell you about in multiple languages.
Follow me on Twitter @suntimes_hoops.