With Nikola Mirotic being traded to the New Orleans Pelicans, the Chicago Bulls have not only once again signaled their intentions to rebuild but have now officially wiped out an era. With Mirotic’s departure, no current Bull had played for the Tom Thibodeau Bulls, with the longest-tenured member now being Bobby Portis. It’s an organizational reset, fittingly completed with Chicago trading one of their most enigmatic players in recent memory.
There were quite-high expectations for Mirotic when he was arriving from the Euroleague. He was one of the best players not in the NBA, and had great success during his time at Real Madrid. It also helped that his skills in Europe were what the Bulls needed. A 6’10 forward who can shoot reasonably well from distance while also showing the ability to put the ball on the floor and be a playmaker. He signed for Chicago in the summer of 2014, 3 years after being drafted, and optimism had sufficiently built over that time.
Mirotic had a very solid rookie year and even finished on the All-Rookie team, averaging 10.2 points per game. It was an up-and-down year that really shined in a period where both Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler was hurt. Mirotic had an amazing group of games in his first epic March, putting up combination of 3-point shooting and free-throw generation that was extremely promising for a still-young player. However, what many didn’t realize then was that the volatile nature between “good Niko” and “bad Niko” was going to last the remainder of his tenure.
Again in the 2015-16 season, Mirotic had only sporadic success. He had a great start to the season, then an unprecedented complication from an appendix removal that not only had him out for significant time but forced significant weight-loss in the process. Niko again wound up producing in March and beyond, it just wasn’t really noticeable as his team lamely fell out of the playoffs that year.
The Three Alphas ‘plan’ of last season meant that Mirotic was marginalized, mostly staying-put beyond the three-point line. At one point, even though he was still one of the team’s better talents, he was DNP’d by Fred Hoiberg .
By this time, the Bulls and Niko were in a forced marriage. The Bulls were clearly on their ‘path’ towards...not being good, while Niko was approaching his theoretical prime. Restricted free agency that summer produced a cold market, and he was eventually retained to a contract that was designed to be traded. For Niko’s part, he reportedly had a strong offseason and earned the starting power forward role, only to get injured in an assault from a teammate. It’s tough to imagine whether we would’ve even seen Lauri Markkanen break out as a rookie if the altercation didn’t happen, because when Niko came back he played spectacularly.
Yet being informed by following his career so far, you couldn’t help but sense Niko’s success this time was as fleeting as always. In this case, perhaps more due to the team’s direction instead of his own play. It’ll be very interesting to see if he can keep up the momentum with a new franchise, or if again he’ll fade.
Throughout his time as a Bull, debating just how good of a basketball player Nikola Mirotic continued to be a talking point. There were times where Mirotic was an absolutely infuriating player to watch. He would launch unnecessary three-pointers from crazy long distances, and his reputation as a shooter didn’t coincide with a consistent three-point percentage. Mirotic shot 31.6% his rookie year, jumped up to 39% the following year before dropping back to 34.2% last season. It was always up and down with Mirotic from three-point land, sort of like his trademark oversized pump-fake.
But Mirotic also showed at times he was particularly underrated, especially defensively. In his 4 seasons in Chicago, Mirotic only registered a negative DBPM once, which was in this current one. He wasn’t as bad as some said he was and even though Mirotic wasn’t a defensive stopper, he did just enough to at least an average defender. He’s always been a serviceable defensive rebounder even as a ‘stretch’ four. He also showed he could be a playmaker at times when given the opportunity. On/Off numbers always favored Niko, pointing to his ability to contribute without scoring and the attention he drew as a shooter even when he wasn’t making a high percentage.
In all, Nikola Mirotic had a very interesting tenure in Chicago, partly because you never knew what you were going to get. There was the common jokes of “Mirotic Madness” and how he would somehow always inexplicably ball-out during the month of March. When he had it going on, he was a thrill to watch, like you knew a lot of these shots were essentially just heat-checks but he was still knocking them down. It always got the crowd going, and it was very impressive to see Mirotic’s confidence in himself to just keep shooting.
During Mirotic’s career here, you could argue that the Bulls themselves were just as chaotic: shifting eras and ‘retooling’ around different players year-to-year. It couldn’t have helped Mirotic’s own development to be in an environment where the priorities were always shifting.
Everyone will acknowledge: at this time, moving Mirotic was the correct move for both player and team. Getting a first round pick for him is a very good deal, and frankly he was helping the team win too many games in a lost season. But not everyone can agree how they exactly felt about Mirotic, as he leaves the only NBA team he has played for. In some way, that confusion perfectly signifies his time here.
So as he departs for the Pelicans, Mirotic ended up getting the move out of Chicago that he wanted. And the Bulls get younger (and worse), which is their goal for now. His exit won’t be as stinging for many fans like it did with the likes of Jimmy, Taj, Jo, and Derrick, but Mirotic’s departure is another signal that this is a new Chicago Bulls team.