At the same time Zach LaVine returns, Nikola Mirotic might be heading out
The dates are starting to match up almost too perfectly for the Bulls.
Right around the time guard Zach LaVine is scheduled to rejoin the team, forward Nikola Mirotic might be ready to tape up his cardboard boxes, empty his locker and hang up his Bulls jersey for the last time.
The Sun-Times reported last week that Mirotic and his representatives are standing firm on his trade request and that he is willing to waive the no-trade clause in his contract when he’s eligible to be dealt Jan. 15.
Playoff-hopeful teams such as the Raptors, 76ers, Knicks, Thunder, Bucks and Spurs could use outside-shooting help, and Mirotic is taking 6.3 three-pointers a game and making a team-leading 46 percent of his them.
While trading Mirotic would be a big blow to the Bulls’ recent winning ways — they are 10-5 with him in the rotation and 3-20 without him — it also would better fit what the front office wants from this season. To management, this season always has been about playing with effort and developing the young core while at the same time giving the franchise the best chance to qualify for and win the lottery.
Making coach Fred Hoiberg’s job easier isn’t even a thought. If the Bulls are able to get the return they want for Mirotic, the roster is in for a drastic face-lift.
Mirotic has been a key factor in the mostly stellar play of the second unit and is one of the players Hoiberg uses in his closing group. His rotation of big men — Mirotic, Robin Lopez, Lauri Markkanen and Bobby Portis — would be a man short and likely would result in more minutes for struggling Cristiano Felicio.
Then factor in Hoiberg having to find enough minutes for a suddenly crowded backcourt with LaVine close to returning. LaVine, who is in the final stages in his rehab for a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, completed his sixth consecutive practice Thursday and will travel with the team to Dallas and Indiana on Friday and Saturday. If he has no setbacks, he will meet with coaches, trainers, doctors and the front office Monday to set a date for his Bulls debut.
Sliding LaVine into the shooting-guard spot means Justin Holiday likely will move to the wing and Denzel Valentine to the bench. And what will it mean to spark plug David Nwaba?
The one player Hoiberg thinks will benefit most from having LaVine alongside him is point guard Kris Dunn. Yes, LaVine likes to have the ball in his hands, but Hoiberg said he isn’t worried about the two coexisting.
‘‘[Zach is] a natural shooting guard, where Kris is the guy who obviously has the ball in his hands a lot,’’ Hoiberg said. ‘‘Kris has shown a very good feel for throwing the ball ahead and getting our fast break started where we can attack on the wings, and I think that’s what Zach brings as much as anything. [He is] a type of player that is a guy on the throw-ahead, can attack the basket, shoot the three in transition.
‘‘He can do a lot of things, so I think Kris and Zach complement each other a lot.’’
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