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updated: 1/19/2018 6:30 AM

Should Chicago Bulls reconsider futures of Nikola Mirotic, Robin Lopez?

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  • Chicago Bulls center Robin Lopez goes up for a dunk on Golden State Warriors' Jordan Bell.

    Chicago Bulls center Robin Lopez goes up for a dunk on Golden State Warriors' Jordan Bell.
    Associated Press

 
 

With the NBA's best team in town Wednesday, several Bulls failed to live up to the occasion.

Zach LaVine and Justin Holiday hit just 2 of 12 shots from the field. Lauri Markkanen went 4 for 12. Kris Dunn struggled for three quarters before picking it up in the fourth.

The Bulls' two best scorers against Golden State were Nikola Mirotic (24 points) and center Robin Lopez (16), who combined to knock down 17 of 24 shots.

It's enough to reexamine the best direction of the Bulls' rebuilding plan. Everyone has assumed Mirotic would be traded soon with Lopez likely to follow.

At the same time, it's tough to imagine how the Bulls could improve on their current big man rotation. Mirotic owns many of the same skills as Markkanen, but with small lineups and 3-point shooting all the rage these days, having multiple outside shooting big men could be an advantage.

Then if the Bulls need a more traditional center to clog up the middle, like they did last Saturday against Detroit's Andre Drummond, Lopez can fill that role. In his 10th NBA season, Lopez is averaging a career-best 12.7 points.

The original expectation for the Bulls was to be one of the league's worst teams, get a top-five draft pick and add someone like Arizona's DeAndre Ayton or Duke's Marvin Bagley. Either of those guys would fit well next to Mirotic, but the Bulls' rapid improvement seemed to sink that plan and trading Mirotic or Lopez probably won't slow the victory train enough to make much of a difference in the draft. With a low lottery pick, the Bulls might have a better chance of filling the opening at small forward.

So it's worth asking, could the Bulls really put a better lineup on the floor by trading Mirotic or Lopez? Both of those players fit well with the current lineup.

There has been plenty of buzz about a potential Mirotic trade, but Jan. 15 -- the first date he was allowed to be traded by league rule -- has come and gone with no deal. It's probably safe to say the Bulls don't want Derrick Favors from Utah, Stanley Johnson from Detroit or any of Portland's long list of bad contracts. They'll likely have to wait until the Feb. 8 trade deadline for better offers.

If the Bulls could get a first-round draft pick for anyone on the roster outside of LaVine, Dunn and Markkanen, they'd probably be glad to make a deal. But that may not happen.

The argument against keeping Lopez is he's 29 and doesn't fit with the younger nucleus. At the same time, big men usually have a longer shelf life in the NBA, so it's easy to see him playing at his current level for another five years, at least.

Lopez might stick around because the Bulls like the job he's done as one of the veteran leaders. His quirky personality seems to hit this group well. Lopez isn't a big talker, but can find the right tone with advice or humor.

The Bulls seem to be less confident about Mirotic's place in the locker room. They were careful to suggest both sides were at fault after the practice altercation with Bobby Portis, then decided to pick up the fourth year of Portis' contract.

Those questions about Mirotic might end up hurting his trade value. The Bulls thought enough of Mirotic's value to offer a two-year, $25 million deal before the season. So if the right trade doesn't come along, the best move for the franchise might be to keep riding Mirotic's current wave of confidence.

Hard feelings from the Portis altercation don't appear to be a factor and the Bulls seemed confident all along that emotions would fade with time.

If that offer of a first-round draft pick comes along, a trade could make sense. Otherwise, it's hard to see how the Bulls could improve on their current front-line rotation.

• Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls.

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