Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis still haven’t spoken away from the court — and possibly never will at this point in the wake of their practice altercation in October that put Mirotic in the hospital and sidelined him for the first 23 regular-season games.
The Bulls are fine with that because the two are communicating on the court, where it matters most.
But while most members of the organization are no longer publicly talking about the dislike between Mirotic and Portis, that doesn’t mean it won’t yet impact the roster. According to a Bulls source, Mirotic and his representatives have still made it known to the front office that he’d waive his no-trade clause if it meant being dealt to a playoff contender when he’s eligible to be moved in mid-January.
Because of how well Mirotic has been playing since his return
Dec. 8, the Bulls are now taking that option more seriously. Despite having an off night in a loss to the Celtics on Saturday — nine points and nine rebounds with 3-for-10 shooting — Mirotic is averaging a career-best 17.9 points and 7.6 rebounds while shooting 51 percent from the field and 48 percent from three-point range.
Yes, the sample size is small, but Mirotic, 26, looks to have staying power thanks to weight gain in the offseason, plus a new-found confidence. If the Bulls could get a mid- to late-first-round draft pick for him — still a big if — he could be traded sooner than later.
Until then, the situation is a win-win for Mirotic. If he’s traded? Great. If he stays? He’s in an offense that’s finally Mirotic-friendly, and that’s why he goes out of his way to praise coach Fred Hoiberg.
“We are playing fun basketball,” Mirotic said. “There are a lot of young guys [but] not many guys that want to play [isolation], so it’s simple basketball, fun basketball, and I think this is an area [Hoiberg] feels comfortable.
“He’s going to put all the pieces in the right situation and find the best role for guys, and he’s been figuring out how we can play with each other. I give Fred a lot of credit. This is how he’s wanted to play.”
So why should the Bulls move the best player they’ve had lately?
Here’s why: Before Mirotic’s return, the Bulls were 3-20, had the worst record in the NBA and were headed toward having the best chance of winning the draft lottery and the No. 1 pick. After nine games with Mirotic, they’ve improved to 10-22 and now have the fourth-worst record. In other words, Mirotic is messing up the rebuild, and that’s even before guard Zach LaVine has returned.
Hoiberg has indicated that Bulls vice president of basketball operations John Paxson and president and chief operating officer Michael Reinsdorf like the way the team has been competing this season.
“Even when we had the tough stretch of losing 10 in a row, we were still going out and playing hard and playing the right way, competing every night,” Hoiberg said.
Competing is good. It’s the winning they might like to see less of, and moving Mirotic would help.
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