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What’s holding up this Nikola Mirotic trade?

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Niko’s saying no, which should’ve been expected

Toronto Raptors v Chicago Bulls Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

We thought there was a Nikola Mirotic trade to the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday afternoon, but it turned out to be another case of NBCSportsChicago’s Vincent Goodwill jumping the gun with his reporting. At the least not parsing words well on Twitter (unblock me, Vinny!), to where the deal looked done but then ‘hit a snag’.

We learned quickly after that the reported deal in its most simple form couldn’t even be legally consummated under the CBA, though that would seemingly be easily remedied by the Pelicans including another low (and expiring) salary.

What really is at the heart of the issue is Mirotic’s no-trade clause and corresponding team option for next year, as KC Johnson explains:

the creative structure to Mirotic’s deal is both blessing and curse. The collective bargaining agreement allows Mirotic the right to reject a trade if the second-year team option isn’t exercised.

With the Pelicans eager to augment a roster that lost DeMarcus Cousins to a season-ending Achilles tendon injury and make the playoffs, the teams negotiated aware that the option wouldn’t be exercised, sources said. If the Pelicans sign Cousins to a max deal this summer, they have luxury-tax concerns.

...

But sources said Mirotic, for now, ultimately soured on waiving his guaranteed $12.5 million next season, not to mention his Bird rights. Those allow a team to go over the salary cap to sign him to a deal with higher annual raises than signing via a salary-cap exception.

Whether Mirotic’s stance changes before the Feb. 8 trade deadline remains to be seen. The Bulls also could pick up his option — which negates Mirotic’s ability to reject a trade — and then find a trading partner.

It’s pretty curious that the trade talks just assumed Mirotic would give up all his contract leverage. I wonder if the Bulls are thinking what else can be done when it comes to making Mirotic uncomfortable here: they publicly blamed him for getting his face broken and supported the face-breaker, and though he’s the team’s best performer he’s coming off the bench in relatively-limited minutes. A chance to start on a potential playoff team, and not have to call GarPax your boss, has to be pretty tempting, but not as much as $12.5 million I guess. I can only hope Niko explained to the Bulls he needed to preserve flexibility.

But it’s also very curious that the Pelicans won’t just pick up the option, because this is a good trade for them! I found this explanation from Pelicans blogger Ryan Schwan compelling:

There is almost no downside to guaranteeing Mirotic his money next year. If you decide you have to dump his salary in the off-season to make room for Boogie, then you trade him during the off-season. He’s a positive contract. You could even get a couple seconds for him!

That said, I remind all of you that Dell [Demps, Pelicans GM] uses information like “Mirotic will only be traded if you guarantee his salary” as bargaining chips. Last year, Boogie’s agent said grumpy things and Dell used that to turn a 2018 1st going out into a 2nd. So this could just be him putting pressure on the Bulls to let him protect it more – or squeeze a second out of Chicago.

It’s definitely possible that this iteration of a Pelicans deal isn’t the best they can do for the combination of Mirotic AND taking on a bad salary. But it’s what they’ve come up with so far, and the delay may potentially only make things worse for them. Or instead hope for luck: that the early leak of these details gets other teams involved (a more desperate Cavaliers now that Kevin Love is hurt?) and actually drives up the price.

The Bulls have done well in this respect: Nikola Mirotic went from a negative asset to a positive one. Now we’ve got to see how they cash in. We know the Bulls are bad at trades, and it’s mostly (probably) because they are lazy, dumb, and cheap, which is tough thing to rectify given the same people have been in charge for 15 years. While they should’ve fired themselves and possibly self-deported, it doesn’t mean GarPax can’t make good moves going forward. And this proposed deal is good...but not great, and you can’t assume ‘the market is the market’ with these guys, only instead hope they know what they’re doing.