Nikola Mirotic has the current title of “best player in Europe not to come to the NBA yet.”
The Bulls have had his rights since 2011 but let him grow up some overseas — Mirotic just led Real Madrid all the way to the Euroleague Finals game (where they fell to Maccabi Tel Aviv 98-86). For the season he averaged 12.4 points in 24 minutes per game.
He’s done enough growing and the Bulls are interested in bringing the 6’10” forward over from Europe now, reports K.C. Johnson at the Chicago Tribune.
The Bulls will begin negotiations for the first time this offseason with Mirotic, who has a buyout this summer. Though Real Madrid made noise about possibly signing Mirotic to an extension beyond the one year remaining on his deal, that could contain an out clause should Mirotic opt for the NBA.
“We have built a relationship with him,” general manager Gar Forman said at last week’s NBA draft combine. “We feel confident he will come over at some point. Whether that’s this summer or next, we don’t know.”
The Bulls are looking for more scoring out of the four slot, better play than they are getting out of Carlos Boozer. That’s why you hear them tied to Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Love rumors. The problem is that if they bring in Mirotic this year they would have that much less money to offer Anthony as a free agent. It’s a balancing act.
That said, Mirotic could also help at the four. However, Bulls fans may want to temper immediate expectations — Tiago Splitter of the Spurs got this kind of hype coming out of Europe but it took him a couple seasons to adjust to the NBA game. It will take Mirotic some time as well, he’s not going to step onto an NBA court and instantly be Dirk Nowitzki.
One other thing to watch: The Bulls using Mirotic (or the rights to Mirotic) in a trade for someone they want. To use the obvious example of Love, a package of Carlos Boozer’s expiring deal (for salary), Mirotic, and one or both of the Bulls first-round picks this year (they draft 16 and 19, with pick 16 coming via Charlotte) may interest the Timberwolves.
One way or another, expect to see Mirotic in the NBA next season.