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The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of the Nikola Mirotic to Pelicans trade

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Nikola Mirotic was going to get moved at the trade deadline, the only questions were where, and would the Bulls get the first round pick they wanted?

Yes, they did — from a Pelicans team desperate to make the playoffs, battling a major injury and who needs both shooting and more big men. The Mirotic trade to the Big Easy was put together on Thursday and will be official soon.

As a reminder of how this trade shakes out:

Chicago receives: Omer Asik, Tony Allen, Jameer Nelson, a 2018 first-round pick (with a Nos. 1-5 protection this year, so it conveys unless the Pelicans miss the playoffs then land in the top three in the lottery) and the right to swap second-rounders with the Pelicans in 2021.

New Orleans receives: Nikola Mirotic and the Pelicans’ own 2018 second-round pick (New Orleans traded it to Chicago in the Quincy Pondexter salary dump last summer).

So how did everyone do in this deal? Let’s break it down Clint Eastwood style with The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

The Good: Nikola Mirotic. He got what he wanted most — the Pelicans agreed to pick up his $12.5 million contract option for next season. Yes, Mirotic wanted to get out of Chicago after the “Bobby Portis broke his face with a punch” incident (although the fallout from that seemed to have mellowed out), and yes he wanted the opportunity to show off his skills, but mostly he wanted the cash. It’s always about the money.

That said, he’s going to get a chance to shine in New Orleans and really help a team trying to hold on to a playoff spot. If the Pelicans sign Greg Monroe (bought out by the Suns) as expected, Mirotic will be the third big, the first off the bench, and they are going to lean on him to create looks and get shots with the second unit. Mirotic is not going to finish the season shooting 42.9 percent from three, that’s already started to slow down, but he can score the rock inside and out, and the Pelicans can use that with DeMarcus Cousins sitting in street clothes and a cast. (Alvin Gentry did a great job of staggering Anthony Davis and Cousins, now that second unit needs the boost.) Plus it means less Darius Miller at the four, which is a good thing.

What’s more, Mirotic may be the perfect guy at the four when Anthony Davis is at the five. That’s why we get to the next “good” part of this trade.

The Good: The New Orleans Pelicans (mostly). New Orleans prioritized making the playoffs this season (read: Alvin Gentry and Dell Demps like their jobs), and since Cousins went down with a torn Achilles the Pelicans have lost to the Clippers and at home to the Kings. It felt like they were about to spiral, but this move (and likely signing of Monroe) likely helps them hold on to a postseason berth.

The Pelicans are not as good as they were with Cousins — and they are locked into playing Mirotic next season — but they will be good enough (considering the Clippers probably take a step back). Also, having Mirotic on the roster next season is some insurance in case Cousins does leave via free agency (most people think he stays, but you never know).

Here may be the best part of the Mirotic trade: We can finally see some Pelicans’ lineups with Anthony Davis at the five and actual shooting around him. How about this lineup: Davis, Mirotic, E'Twaun Moore, Jrue Holiday, and Darius Miller. That lineup has potential. (I just hope Gentry doesn’t screw it up and put Rondo in rather than Miller.)

The only downsides here for the Pelicans are giving up that first-round pick, and adding $1.2 million more in salary to the books next season (that’s how much more Mirotic will make compared to Asik). The Pelicans will be flirting with the luxury tax next season, the advantage is Mirotic will be a contributor to the team on the court, unlike Asik.

The Good: The Bulls “effort” to get a high draft pick. The Bulls will not use the word “tank,” but they should be closer to the bottom of the standings than they are. Chicago started poorly this season but has played well of late (gone 15-13 in their last 28) and if the draft lottery were today it would be seeded sixth (a 6.3 percent chance at the top spot and a 21.4 percent chance of landing in the top three). With this move the Bulls should lose a little more, and stand a better chance of sliding behind the Suns out West and maybe other teams to improve their lottery (and ultimately draft) position.

The Bad: The rest of this deal for Chicago. The Bulls did land the Pelicans first-round draft pick (likely in the high teens somewhere), and that has some value (as long as they learned their Jordan Bell lesson and don’t sell it). But to do that they gave up a strong trade asset in Mirotic, took on salary almost up to what Mirotic would have made had they had just picked up his option, and did they need to give the Pelicans their second-round pick back?

I don’t hate this deal, it’s not selling the Jordan Bell pick bad (or giving up the No. 16 pick in the Jimmy Butler deal), but it’s not great.

The Bad: Anyone who thought the Pelicans would try to trade Anthony Davis this summer. Most non-crazy Celtics fans realized that if New Orleans comes to the realization it has to move Davis or lose him, they won’t do it until the summer of 2019. Go ahead and try to rationalize the “they will get more for him now” arguments if you want, but the reality in New Orleans is far more straightforward: They are not going to see a player like Davis come through for a long time so they need to do everything they can to keep him. Davis isn’t just a No. 1 pick, he’s a top-five NBA player who brings it on both ends, a first-team All-NBA level player, and he is just entering his prime. You don’t trade a guy like that unless you have to.

The Pelicans are going to try to make this all work. Maybe it doesn’t and Danny Ainge can swoop in from the vulture’s perch he’s sitting on and pick the carcass clean, but that’s not happening for more than a year.

The Ugly: The playoff dreams of the Utah Jazz. It was going to be a longshot for the Jazz to make the postseason anyway, they probably need to go at least 21-9 or better the rest of the way to make the cut. However, with the Cousins injury and the Blake Griffin trade from the Clippers, it may have felt in Salt Lake City like the door to the postseason was opening a crack.

This trade to get Mirotic to New Orleans pretty much slams that door shut. It will stop the bleeding in the Big Easy. Sorry Jazz fans, hopefully next year the core can just stay healthy.

Report: After DeMarcus Cousins’ injury, Pelicans trading for Bulls’ Nikola Mirotic

AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski
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The Pelicans and Bulls pulled a humpty dumpty and put the Nikola Mirotic trade together again.

The initial deal appeared to fall apart because Mirotic used his veto power that automatically comes with being on a one-year contract and having Bird Rights at the end of it. So, the teams nullified Mirotic’s veto power by turning his one-year deal into a two-year deal by exercising his $12.5 million team option for next season now.

With Mirotic powerless to stop it (and getting his desired salary guarantee next season), he’ll go to New Orleans – primarily for a first-round pick and Omer Asik‘s burdensome contract, but with Tony Allen, Jameer Nelson and other picks also changing teams.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Pelicans were down a starting-caliber big after DeMarcus Cousinsseason-ending injury, and Mirotic will fill that hole. New Orleans clearly values protecting its two-game cushion for playoff position, and – in what has become a near-annual tradition – will deal its first-round pick to improve the present.

Mirotic is having a nice year, and his shot making – particularly while spacing the floor beyond the 3-point arc – should make New Orleans’ offense even more dangerous.

By acquiring a power forward, this pushes Anthony Davis toward center, a position he doesn’t particularly like to play. The physical pounding at center is substantial, and this increases Davis’ injury risk.

That’s why the protections on the first-round pick are important. Even at 27-23 so far, the Pelicans’ floor is somewhat low this season. Not only are there injury concerns, this team must adjust on the fly while effectively swapping Cousins for Mirotic.

Mirotic will probably welcome the challenge. He wanted to leave Chicago after a preseason practice fight with teammate Bobby Portis left Mirotic hospitalized. Mirotic returned and played well while saying the right things, and the Bulls are living up to their end of the bargain by trading him.

Asik – guaranteed $10,595,505 this season, $11,286,516 next season and $3 million of $11,977,527 the follow season – carries significant negative value. Taking him is a burden that improved Chicago’s draft return.

To lesser degrees, the same applies for Allen and Nelson, veterans who serve little purpose on the tanking/rebuilding Bulls.

Allen has been hurt, and Nelson has been ineffective. Though both are on just minimum contracts, New Orleans is perilously close to the luxury-tax line and hard cap. Dumping their salaries and clearing roster spots helps the Pelicans.

If Allen gets healthy, his defense could help a better team down the stretch. Likewise, Nelson could provide decent depth on a team short a point guard. Quincy Pondexter is probably finished.

In addition to waiving those three, I believe the Bulls would technically exercise Mirotic’s team option before the trade. If he consents based on the belief the Pelicans will do it, there’s a non-zero chance they renege. Having the option exercised first is the only surefire way for Mirotic to get his desired security.

New Orleans initially hesitated to accept Mirotic with a guaranteed 2018-19 salary in fear that’d make re-signing Cousins too expensive. The Pelicans will still have Cousins’ full Bird Rights and the ability to pay him up to the max, but they could cross the luxury-tax line, probably a no-go for ownership. But the luxury tax won’t be assessed until the end of the regular season. The way Mirotic has been playing, New Orleans might even be able to flip him for value before next season’s trade deadline.

Three questions the Chicago Bulls must answer this season

Associated Press
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The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer this season to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.

Last season: 41-41 getting the eight seed, lost to Boston in the first round.

I know what you did last summer: Chicago traded away Jimmy Butler for a handful of magic beans Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, and they swapped first round picks with the Timberwolves (that they gave up their No. 16 pick in that trade is inconceivable). The Bulls used that draft pick on Lauri Markkanen They let Rajon Rondo walk, re-signed Nikola Mirotic and Cristiano Felicio, picked up Quincy Pondexter and Justin Holiday.

THREE QUESTIONS THE BULLS MUST ANSWER:

1) When does Zach LaVine return and how does he look? LaVine is an explosive athlete — remember the dunk contest? — who scored 18.9 points per game last season because of that gift. Then he tore his ACL. There is legitimate reason for concern. LaVine is young, he could well bounce all the way back, but traditionally this is not a fast process.

The latest projections are LaVine will start contact in practice in mid-November, which could have him back around Thanksgiving if there are no setbacks. However, expect the Bulls to be cautious with him, and restrict his minutes when he does return. Usually with ACLs it takes players time — like months, maybe a year — after returning to the court to really truly trust the knee again, not think about it, and play like their former selves.

LaVine is a restricted free agent next summer, so how he looks when he does bounce back will directly impact his paycheck next season. The Bulls will want to keep him after getting him for Butler, the only questions are at what cost, and can he continue his upward trajectory after his return.

2) Who plays point guard? This is the worst point guard rotation in the NBA. (I see you waiving your hands Knicks fans, but Ramon Sessions and the promise of Frank Ntilikina is a clear step better than anything in Chicago.) All three of their current options are poor.

The Bulls front office wanted Cameron Payne as part of the Taj Gibson trade with OKC, but he is going to miss at least the first month of the season with his third injury to the same foot in a couple of years. He hasn’t been terribly impressive when on the court and may not be in the NBA next season.

That leaves Kris Dunn and Jerian Grant as the Bulls point guards. Dunn probably gets the first crack at the job, but he was terrible this past season — he shot 37.7 percent overall and 28.8 percent from three, turned the ball over on 21 percent of his possessions, didn’t run the offense well or get to the foul line. His PER of 8.1 last season suggests guy who should be bouncing between the NBA and G-League. He also didn’t look good in very limited Summer League action, either. On the upside, he can defend a little. Fred Hoiberg has a lot of development work to do here, but after last season I wonder if Dunn is as explosive as advertised. Look at it this way: Tom Thibodeau used the No. 5 pick on Dunn, then after one season was willing to trade him away. Dunn is going to get his chance, but he’s going to have to be a lot better for this to work out to the Bulls.

My guess is, like last season, eventually Hoiberg will be Forced to turn to Grant. He played respectably for the Bulls last season in tandem with Rondo (a little below NBA average, but he shot 37 percent from three), at least until the playoffs when Rondo went down and Grant was so bad Hoiberg had to turn to Isaiah Canaan (who Chicago didn’t even bring back). Grant struggles on defense. Bottom line, there are no good options at the point for the Bulls, and that is going to drag their team down.

3) Can Fred Hoiberg develop young talent? The Gar/Pax front office hand-picked Hoiberg out of college as a guy they could work with, who cared about analytics, and a guy who would bring a more modern style of play to Chicago. That hasn’t gone smoothly. To be kind. Now Hoiberg sees his job change to one more about developing players for the future rather than trying everything to win now. He comes out of the college ranks where he did develop players — he still serves as the Bulls’ shooting coach — but can he translate all of that to the NBA level? He’s got a couple a season to prove he can. (Whether Bulls fans should fear Gar/Pax as the architects of this rebuild is another question.)

At the top of the list, how does Hoiberg grow LaVine, Markkanen, Bobby Portis, Paul Zipster, and Denzel Valentine?

Outside of LaVine and Markkanen, how much can any of them grow? They may be rotation players.

Markkanen was a controversial pick, a European big man who can shoot the three, those kinds of players have a mixed history of adapting to the NBA game. Markkanen was unimpressive in Summer League in Las Vegas (he averaged 14 points and 9 boards a game, but shot 29.3 percent and was pushed around by the likes of Ryan Kelly), but the challenge for Hoiberg is to get him in spaces where he can be confident with his shot, then develop his all around game. It’s going to take time. Markkanen did play well in EuroBasket, if you want some silver lining.

The Bulls are tanking this season, they are going to be one of the handful of worst teams in the NBA, and in the final season before lottery reform they should have a very high pick in a draft expected to have serious talent at the top. (The Bulls second-round pick goes to the Knicks via the Thunder.) Starting this season with LaVine (when healthy) and Markkanen, Portis, and Washington, we’ll see if Hoiberg is up to this new developmental. He’s not on the hot seat (yet), but if these players don’t grow it will get warm.

Report: Dante Cunningham re-signing with Pelicans

AP Photo/David Goldman
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An intriguing battle emerged late in free agency over Dante Cunningham.

The Pelicans and Timberwolves were desperate at small forward, and Cunningham rare contributor at the position still available. New Orleans even traded a second-rounder and cash to dump Quincy Pondexter and get far enough below the hard cap to take advantage of Cunningham’s Bird Rights.

That’ll pay off.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

It’s not the $3,106,500 Cunningham opted out of, but a $2.3 million salary beats his minimum ($2,106,470), which is all Minnesota could’ve offered.

That’s a great rate on someone who might be the Pelicans’ starting small forward, considering Solomon Hill‘s injury. Even if he plays behind Tony Allen on a team that starts small on the perimeter, Cunningham will reduce the time New Orleans must rely on also-rans.

Cunningham is probably better at power forward, but he can defend either position. He also has become a good enough 3-point shooter to credibly play small forward.

For the Pelicans, he’s a huge upgrade at a bargain price.

Pelicans trying to keep up with all the problems they’ve created for themselves

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The entire operation could have cratered if Jrue Holiday left in free agency, as the Pelicans would have had only moderate cap space to replace him.

That didn’t happen.

Otherwise…

Years of roster mismanagement caught up to New Orleans, which had its meager wing depth eviscerated when Solomon Hill suffered a long-term injury. Complicating matters, the Pelicans had already hard-capped themselves by signing Rajon Rondo and Darius Miller to a combined salary above the taxpayer mid-level exception. Holiday used his leverage to get a massive contract – worth up to $150 million over five years – that pushed New Orleans close to that hard cap.

Rondo might be a decent value as a $3.3 million backup point guard. But his ego complicates the situation, and the Pelicans will start him at point guard – pushing Holiday to shooting guard, where the team’s third-best player will make less of an impact.

Miller washed out of the NBA two years ago after three seasons in New Orleans. The former second-rounder went overseas and then drew a salary above the minimum. I’m curious to see what the Pelicans see in him now.

In a pinch on the wing – where Hill, best at power forward, was already playing out of position – New Orleans sent a second-rounder and cash to the Bulls to dump Quincy Pondexter. Presumably, the injury problems that have kept Pondexter from playing the last two seasons meant he couldn’t help the Pelicans on the wing this season. Otherwise, this deal was a farce. But it allowed the Pelicans to sign Tony Allen and presumably one other player. Re-signing Dante Cunningham would help, but even he is better at power forward than small forward.

Allen is still a strong defender at age 35, but he’s a poor shooter. Rondo generally has been, too.

Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins will have to be comfortable from deep for this team to have adequate spacing. The situation behind those two stars is woeful.

New Orleans spent a lot of time picking around the edges at point guard, though. In addition to re-signing Holiday and signing Rondo, the Pelicans traded effective backup point guard Tim Frazier (on a reasonable $2 million salary) to the Wizards for the No. 52 pick. Then, New Orleans essentially dealt the Nos. 40 and 52 picks and $800,000 to move up to No. 31 for injured point guard Frank Jackson, who’s already hurt again. The Pelicans also signed Ian Clark (defends point guards, handles the ball and distributes like a shooting guard). Combo guard E'Twaun Moore returns, too.

Between Davis, Cousins, Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca, New Orleans is paying $57,396,659 this season to players most effective at center.

Meanwhile, small forward is a wasteland.

This is not the team I’d want to send into battle during Cousins’ contract year. Lose him, and how will that color Davis’ long-term view of the franchise?

The Pelicans keep bandaging major wounds, and it’s already catching up to them. The difficult situation entering the offseason must be taken into account.

They started the summer in a jam. Then, they got jammed.

Offseason grade: C-