Nikola Mirotic did it again this weekend, leading Real Madrid to a championship game victory over Barcelona in the Copa Del Rey tournament. As is becoming expected, Mirotic took home MVP honors. He finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds in the title game and averaged 16.3 points and 6.3 rebounds over three tournament games. Today, he turns 23 years old.
We've known Mirotic is the best young player in Europe for a while. What's dicier is the timeline to get him to the United States to play for our Chicago Bulls, the team that acquired him via a draft day trade after he was selected No. 23 overall in 2011.
This upcoming summer will be the first year the Bulls can genuinely negotiate with Mirotic since he is no longer subject to the rookie scale three years after his draft class. There are plenty of rumors tying Carmelo Anthony to the Bulls after this season, and some conjecture (mostly from me!) about the tepid dream of adding Lance Stephenson. It's all likely for naught if the Bulls can bring over Mirotic. He appears to be the big fish they're after this offseason.
There's been a storm of stories on Mirotic following Copa Del Rey, with most signs pointing to him joining the Bulls this offseason. This may be slightly unexpected, as last we heard from the Bulls, GM tandem Gar Forman and John Paxson were doing their best to downplay the chances of Mirotic joining the Bulls for the 2014-15 season. Even if the Bulls don't want to hype up Mirotic's stateside arrival too much, it's clear the folks in and around Real Madrid think he's likely to join the NBA sooner rather than later.
In an interview with MARCA, Mirotic said:
"Chicago loves me and makes a great effort for me, a decision will be taken soon,"
Another Spanish story says the president of Real Madrid knows Mirotic's departure this summer is 'very likely', despite the fact that Real Madrid is "willing to put all eggs in one basket for Mirotic."
The same article throws out that the Bulls could pay him $10 million per season, which is a figure deemed "impossible" to compete with for Real Madrid.
In the Daily Herald, Mike McGraw has quotes Hector Fernandez, a man self-described as Mirotic's best friend. He says Niko is all about the Bulls.
"Niko is a winner. He has born for competition. He wants to win in every aspect," Fernandez said. "He is ready for the NBA adventure for sure. Since he was drafted, he’s been interested in Chicago. He knows everything about the team and also about the city and the number of Serbian people who live there."
All of this is good news, even if it might not change much, as Mark Deeks suggests. The question is going to be money. It's always about money.
Mirotic is in a good position to ask for a lot of money, if he wants to. He makes about $4.4 million playing for Real Madrid this season, and he'll have to pay a large chunk of a buyout with the salary the Bulls pay him. Most projections have Mirotic making $7-8 million per season starting next year. I would not be surprised if that number continues to climb.
Though the $10 million per season number thrown out by the Spanish site is conjecture and not reporting, it wouldn't shock me if it ends being closer to $10 million than $7 million in annual salary. Mirotic has leverage, a good life and a good salary in Spain. He might as well ask for the moon. It does feel like he badly wants to play in the NBA soon, though, which is a great sign for the Bulls.
The best look we have at the Bulls' cap numbers comes from Deeks. The Bulls could get $13.287 million under the cap if they amnesty Boozer and trade Mike Dunleavy Jr. If they don't trade Dunleavy, it's likely the Bulls would only be able to add Mirotic and no one else in free agency.
This is fine with me. I think the Bulls need to do whatever they can to get Mirotic on the team next season. I'm not in love with the idea of Carmelo Anthony starting a five-year, $129 million contract in Chicago after his 30th birthday, though I certainly don't blame the folks who want that. The Bulls are in a good position going forward with draft picks and young players if they're able to add Mirotic.
Maybe the Bulls won't be title contenders next season like they would be with Anthony, but I'm fine with a slow-ish burn. It's about building something sustainable. The health and creeping age of Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson is certainly a factor here, but it seems like it's going to be a chore to ever get Mirotic over if they don't do it this summer. Just sign Niko! We need to see what this guy can do in the NBA. I think it's time.