There were a lot of interesting (and vomit-inducing) lines from the big report that GarPax are here until they shovel dirt on our graves, but there were some bits that stood out in impacting a particular player. Because when you read this (again, watch the gag reflex):
the Reinsdorfs have valued management's ability to avoid hamstringing the franchise with bloated, long-term contracts for players with minimal impact
...doesn’t that make you think about Nikola Mirotic?
Mirotic is going to be a restricted free agent this summer. He turns 26 tomorrow, and given that age, shown skillset, and the free agency market: despite his apparent lack of progress in his career, he is going to get offered a long-term deal. A ‘bloated’ one, most likely.
The Bulls will have the opportunity to match any offer, but if staying away from these types of deals is truly their plan, it’s tough to see it happening. Stephen Noh of The Athletic noticed something else in in that report about ownership’s support of GarPax that ties to Niko:
The Bulls free agency edict, especially in the new CBA, seems to be first to go after stars but when they tell you no stick to shorter-term deals. Niko would not fit either category.
Mirotic has long been seen as part of a duo (with Doug McDermott...and that’s a whole other story but he’s still under contract for another season) who management invested in to form the next core of the team. And his skills are seen as complementary to the Bulls star high-usage players. But not only did Niko fail to win the starting power forward job to begin the season, he’s had a down year, mostly due to his 3pt% falling to 30%, but in other ways as well. And due to not only a lack of improvement this season, but regression, has him playing fewer minutes as the year has progressed. Even in the couple games starter Taj Gibson was out, Hoiberg has opted for other choices to replace him besides Niko.
I think there’s hope for him yet, but more importantly there has to be one other NBA team that thinks that way. The Bulls apparently do not feel that way, at least not to the level where they’d change their ‘thinking’ and they’d offer or match a Mirotic contract.
So instead letting him go in the offseason and the Bulls receiving nothing in return but Gar Forman telling us “we really value Niko, but...”, it’s best to trade him now. KC Johnson somewhat confirmed the earlier (and Cowley-er) reports that Niko was made available, but there wasn’t much of a market for him.
I don’t believe the latter. Don’t make me write the Pau Gasol trade manifesto again, especially with Mirotic being so much younger. A deal should be workable, and he shouldn’t be put in the same group as Rajon Rondo when it comes to tradeability. While Niko is indeed approaching free agency, the ability to secure him now does give a team that’s over the cap this offseason the Bird Rights on him for re-signing, and that has some value. And for the final stretch of the season, Niko can be a bench contributor to a good team that helps immediately. The price in return could be something like a low first-round pick or a scuffling young player still on a rookie deal (for example: some other team’s Bobby Portis).
That’s better than nothing, and while potentially hurting the ‘remain competitive’ track (Portis is a huge step down defensively, but this means Taj Gibson - someone they seem to actually like - stays), this would actually further move along the roster overhaul to ‘younger and more athletic’. Granted, it was thought before that such a philosophy included the draft success of Mirotic. But his play over the past 3 years has apparently soured the Bulls to the point where there’s no way they’re paying him what some other team will, so time to cut bait and pivot your accolades to some other even-younger player.