While dreaming of Carmelo Anthony or Kevin Love somehow becoming a Bull this summer is fun, the most realistic big splash of the offseason is Real Madrid star Nikola Mirotic.
The 23-year-old has been tearing it up in Spain the last few seasons, becoming the youngest MVP in ACB League history last season. Mirotic was selected 23rd in the 2011 NBA Draft, and the Bulls acquired his draft rights later in the night.
This offseason is the first time Mirotic won't be bound by the rookie scale in terms of salary, meaning the Bulls could either use cap space or an exception to sign him. But while this is the first year the Bulls can offer him a nice chunk of change, that doesn't necessarily mean Mirotic is ready to come over. There are some complications, including a hefty buyout as well as a possible contract extension with Real Madrid.
In an interview with the Spanish newspaper Diario AS, Mirotic said he's close to making a decision about his future, and he also talked about his thought process in regards to staying in Europe or coming to the Bulls (translated by Sportando.com):
"The most important thing for me is the ambition. It is not an economic issue. I will do what my heart says. What is the best for me. The options are Chicago or Real Madrid where I can improve and build a future. I don't know yet but I will make a decision soon" said Mirotic who spoke also about a new contract offer made by the Spanish powerhouse. "Real Madrid talked with my agent but they did not reach an agreement yet on a new contract" added the forward. "My decision will not be influenced by the victory in Euroleague. This is clear for me. It is something more personal. I wish we can win Euroleague. But I will not put myself in a situation that I will go to the NBA only if I win Euroleague" added Mirotic.
To me, that sounds like good news for the Bulls. When Mirotic says it's not really about the money and that it's about "ambition," that sounds like a guy ready to take his game to the next level.
Of course, one has to imagine money will play a part in the decision. We've debated what type of contract would required to get Mirotic over here, with some thinking the full MLE ($5.305 million in the first year) and others believing cap space will be required. CBS Sports' Ken Berger reported Mirotic will be looking for a salary in the $3-4 million range, but that seems awfully low considering the prohibitive buyout.
The buyout really does make things a bit tricky, and Nate Duncan of Basketball Insiders did a nice job a few weeks ago explaining why:
The Bulls face a number of issues bringing over Mirotic starting with his massive 2.5 million Euro buyout, which translates to $3.475 million at current exchange rates.
Buyouts from European teams are an extremely tricky business in the NBA. The Collective Bargaining Agreement prevents teams from spending more than what is known as the Excluded International Player Payment to buyout international players without it counting against the salary cap. This amount is $600,000 in 2014-15 (it has and will go up $25,000 each year of the CBA). Beyond that, any buyout amount is paid by the player. It was this buyout that prevented the Bulls from having a realistic chance to bring him over before this summer. Mirotic was the 23rd pick in the 2011 draft, and therefore was prescribed such a low salary that there is no way it would have made financial sense for him to come to the Bulls before this summer.
Since the Bulls can only pay $600,000 of that buyout, Mirotic must foot the bill for the remainder, which is $2.875 million. That amount could come in the form of a signing bonus, but as Duncan explains, there could be some issues if the Bulls only have the MLE at their disposal:
However, paying the buyout as a signing bonus has important consequences for the size of Mirotic's overall contract because of another rule that limits signing bonuses to 15 percent of the overall contract value. If the buyout were paid entirely as a signing bonus, that means the minimum overall value of Mirotic's contract would be $19.2 million. On a three-year deal, this would require a first-year cap number of approximately $6.1 million, about $800,000 above the mid-level exception amount. The amount of the buyout/bonus allocable to the first (and each successive) salary cap year would be $958,333, or one third of the bonus.* If the Bulls do not amnesty Carlos Boozer to open up cap space greater than the MLE, or would simply like to pay Mirotic less, this would cause problems because they would not be able to give Mirotic a contract starting at less than $6.1 million if the entire buyout were paid as a bonus.
This would leave a few options. One would be offering a four-year contract instead of a three-year deal, and the other is fitting Mirotic into the MLE while also providing enough cash up front to cover the buyout. There's a provision in the CBA that allows teams to pay up to 25 percent of a player's base compensation before Oct. 1 and another 25 percent before regular game checks start coming on Nov. 15. That advance payment would be more than enough to cover the buyout.
Of course, the Bulls could amnesty Carlos Boozer and open up what should be more than enough cap space to sign Mirotic. As Duncan says, that could lead to some "fascinating" negotiations as both sides would have some leverage.
In my world, the only way the Bulls should have the full MLE available is if they somehow unload Boozer in a trade that brought Melo or Love (or somebody else really good) to Chicago. Considering I don't expect that to happen, I see little reason to keep Boozer while also attempting to bring over Mirotic at the MLE. I'd much rather just amnesty Boozer, use the cap space on Mirotic, and then possibly use any remaining cap space or maybe even the room exception to grab another big man. The Bulls could also look to draft a big man and/or use the minimum on another big not named Nazr Mohammed.
The Bulls definitely have some flexibility heading into the offseason, and it will be interesting to see how things play out. While some crazy stuff could happen, I'm expecting Mirotic to be a Bull next season.