Bulls to begin talks to bring Nikola Mirotic to NBA

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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.

Marreese Speights opts out of Clippers contract

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The Clippers are unraveling.

Of course, whether they can re-sign Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are the big questions. But they also must deal with smaller matters in free agency – like Marreese Speights.

Speights will opt out, his agent tweeted:

The Clippers will hold Speights’ Non-Bird Rights (technically a form of Bird Rights), allowing them to give him a starting salary up to $2,540,346 without using cap space or the mid-level exception.

The 29-year-old Speights, a stretch five who takes charges, fits the modern NBA. He could probably get more if he seeks it.

The Clippers won’t have cap space unless they lose Paul and Griffin, and at that point, re-signing a veteran like Speights is of little use. So, it would likely require the taxpayer mid-level exception or Speights taking a discount to keep him.

Luc Mbah a Moute can and likely will also opt out, and he’ll fall in the same Non-Bird situation. The Clippers would likely prioritize their mid-level exception for him – if it’s enough for either player.

Keeping Paul and Griffin is of the utmost importance, but that’s not the Clippers’ only challenge. Even if they keep those two stars, assembling even a decent supporting cast will difficult. Possibly losing J.J. Redick is the main issue there, but handling Speights’ and Mbah a Moute’s roster spots will also be pivotal.

Warriors struggle to get Zaza Pachulia’s 2017 NBA Finals hat on his big head (video)

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Zaza Pachulia became the villain of the Western Conference finals when he injured Kawhi Leonard and torpedoed the Spurs chances of upsetting the Warriors.

But his teammates stood by him – then shared this fun moment with him after Golden State won the West.

Reporter asks Spanish-speaking Manu Ginobili whether he just announced retirement (video)

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Manu Ginobili received an emotional sendoff in the Spurs’ season-ending – and maybe Ginobili’s career-ending – loss to the Warriors last night.

The postgame press conference featured a lighthearted moment when, after the Argentinian guard answered a couple questions in Spanish, an American reporter – not wanting to miss big news – asked whether Ginobili had just announced his retirement.

No, Ginobili assured the reporter. He says he plans to take a few weeks to consider his options.

Warriors make most dominant playoff run ever to NBA Finals

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Moses Malone famously predicted the 76ers team would go “”Fo’, Fo’, Fo'” in the 1983 playoffs, sweeping all three rounds in four games. Philadelphia didn’t quite do it – sweeping the Knicks, beating the Bucks in five then sweeping the Lakers for the title.

Thirty-four years later, an NBA team went “”Fo’, Fo’, Fo'” for the first time.

Golden State swept the Trail Blazers, Jazz and Spurs in four-game series. But with an extra playoff round, the Warriors’ 12-0 run merely gets them to the Finals.

It’s the ninth undefeated run to the Finals, third since the league adopted four playoff rounds in 1984 and first since the first round became best-of-seven. The Lakers went 11-0 in the playoffs en route to the Finals in 2001 and 1989.

By winning an extra game and outscoring opponents by 16.3 points per game, Golden State now claims the most dominant postseason run to the NBA Finals ever.

Here are the top paths to the Finals, with Finals results, by playoff…

Record (point difference per game in parentheses):

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Point difference per game (record in parentheses):

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This doesn’t guarantee Golden State a championship. The Cavaliers (10-1, +11.9) are on track for an elite run to the Finals themselves, and they have LeBron James.

But the Warriors put ridiculous expectations on themselves by signing Kevin Durant to join a 73-win team featuring Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. I’m unsure a Golden State title this year will be properly appreciated, but so far, the Warriors are doing all they can to clear a bar set unreasonably high.