On the day of the 2011 NBA Draft, the Bulls traded for the draft rights to Nikola Mirotic, a 21-year-old Montenegrin playing in the Spanish league under contract with Real Madrid through 2015.
After winning the Rising Stars Trophy in 2011 -- given to the best player under 22-years-old -- in the Euroleague, DraftExpress.com called him "the most productive player on arguably the best team in Europe". Everything pointed to a wait-and-see approach to Mirotic, as his "contract includes a buyout of roughly 2 million euros", a portion of which would be charged as team salary taken out of the Bulls' mid-level exception -- their only method to acquire a free agent for more than the minimum salary while over the salary cap.
Then, a new Collective Bargaining Agreement was signed that will raise the luxury tax considerably, especially over consecutive seasons.
Mirotic, then racked up these accomplishments over the 2011-12 season overseas:
- He won a second-straight Rising Stars Trophy;
- Notched PERs over 20 in the ACB Spanish League (20.6 in 20.2 MPG) and the Euroleague (23.9 in 23.1 MPG);
- Opened up his game from showing little more than 3-point shooting to translate to the NBA to attacking the rim off the ball, raising his FTAs per 40 minutes from 4.0 and 3.7 in the ACB and Euroleague to 5.3 and 6.6, as he became a larger part of Madrid's offense.
So, bring him over now, right? What's a million dollars on a guy who'll be on a cheap rookie contract while shooting the lights out and learning the NBA game?
The NBA allows for a maximum of $525,000 of a buyout for an international player without that buyout being charged as "team salary". So, the Bulls would lose about $450,000-$500,000 each year from giving a free agent the full $5 mid-level exception, even if they spaced it out over four years (if they can?). The money is charged as a bonus and, but doing so takes away from the much lower $3 mid-level exception the Bulls have when they inevitably exceed the luxury tax in the 2013-14 season, if not earlier.
Mark Schanowski did the math in his Wednesday column at CSNChicago.com and figured the Bulls will hit the luxury tax this year when they fill the roster with veteran minimum salaries and perhaps this year's draft pick, even if they don't use the mid-level exception and the rumor of letting C.J. Watson go is true (I refuse to believe the Bulls still won't sign Watson for that price until the room gets smokier.). Buying out Mirotic now won't only put them over the tax, lowering their mid-level exception to $3 million to offer a free agent, but a portion of that buyout will work against that exception.
It's largely why -- I assume -- Schanowski adds that options to buy out Mirotic open up more when Luol Deng's contract expires after the 2013-14 season. After that season, the Bulls will only be committed to -- as of now -- Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer, and Joakim Noah for about $46 million. Even if they pick up the two-year option on Jimmy Butler in 2013, that's only another $2 million and Amnestying Boozer can make up enough for keeping Taj Gibson and Omer Asik to give the Bulls wiggle room to buy out Mirotic, have that buyout charged as their salary and have some room to maneuver within the salary cap to be something of a player in free agency with a still very solid core around which to build.
I still have yet to see anything from any scout denying that the only thing that will hold Mirotic back from getting buckets is getting the ball. He's a great shooter in and out of traffic. Even if his athleticism isn't enough to be a good defender, a coach not trying to use his 6-10 frame as a stretch four will maximize the utilization of his 7-1 wingspan to be a good enough defender if he uses his head to better move his feet. Showing signs of wanting to be a dunkaholic this year is even more promising.
I think all Bulls fans should have a healthy level of anticipation for his arrival to the Bulls. Every box score he fills and YouTube reel he dominates can make the mouth water, at least for the prospect of a perennial 20-25 MPG sniper with a long body.
But, what his addition to the Bulls takes away in the macro sense of them being players in the offseason will likely keep him in Spain for the next two seasons. You have to believe he has a serious shot at making the 2012 Spanish Olympic Team, given these last two seasons and that team lacking Ricky Rubio's international youth appeal, so hopefully we get to see him show off some chops for all of us to see.
Mirotic's stats via DraftExpress.com.