Chicago Bulls decide to hold Mirotic out of Portland game
At Wednesday's shootaround in Portland, Nikola Mirotic told reporters he was ready to move on from the previous day's unfinished trade to New Orleans.
A few hours later, the Chicago Bulls announced Mirotic would not play in Wednesday's game against the Trail Blazers. Maybe that means a trade is imminent, or maybe it means the Bulls are fully committed to trading the fourth-year forward. There is still more than a week before the NBA's Feb. 8 trade deadline to get something done.
On Tuesday, there were reports a deal was close to send Mirotic to New Orleans for a first-round draft pick and ex-Bulls center Omer Asik. The deal fell apart because Mirotic would not agree to waive his no-trade clause, according to a league source.
Asked what happened in the hours before the team departed for Oregon, Mirotic wouldn't comment on whether he blocked the trade by declining to waive his no-trade clause.
"I was just about to come to practice and just a few minutes before practice I had some calls from my agents and they told me to step off the practice and just wait," Mirotic said. "I stepped off. I was talking to (coach) Fred (Hoiberg) and (trainer) Jeff Tanaka.
"First because of my leg, I was a little sore. That was one of the reasons I didn't practice a couple days ago. Nothing (happened), that was basically it. I met the team at the plane, and now I'm here."
At the time, Mirotic said he expected to play in Wednesday's contest. With Lauri Markkanen not with the team for personal reasons, Hoiberg said he planned to start Paul Zipser in Markkanen's place.
With more prodding, Mirotic did eventually talk about the decision process he faces with the second year of his contract, a team option worth $12.5 million.
"It was an option with New Orleans. That's all I heard," Mirotic said. "I said (to his agent), 'OK, you guys can think and see what's the best for me.' We're going to make a decision, but we don't have to rush to make a decision. This happened yesterday. It's not even 24 hours. It's nothing to do that fast.
"Obviously without (injured DeMarcus) Cousins, it's not a good situation for (the Pelicans). I don't know. I don't need to think about New Orleans now. Until the last day or minute I'm wearing the Bulls jersey, I'm thinking about the Bulls. It's something I cannot control."
Mirotic was asked if the decision about his no-trade clause would be made by him or his agent, Los Angeles-based Alyton Tesch.
"It's both of us. We're the team," Mirotic said. "The good thing, I have the option, but I'm making it together with my team. They've been fighting for me all this year. We're going to do what's best for the team, for me. We're not sure yet, what we're going to do. Until then, let's play basketball."
Some may wonder how Mirotic ended up with a no-trade clause.
The answer is, it's mandated by the league's collective-bargaining agreement. A player on a one-year contract who will have Larry Bird Rights at the end of the season can veto any potential trade.
Bird Rights means the player's own team is able to go above the salary cap to re-sign the player. Those rights follow the player in a trade.
To recap Mirotic's journey, he was a restricted free agent last summer and did not receive an offer sheet from another team. He could have signed a one-year qualifying offer with the Bulls for roughly $7.2 million and become an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Instead, the Bulls agreed to give him a bump in pay, to $12.5 million, and include the team option for next season. Since Mirotic is on a one-year deal, he has the no-trade clause. If the Bulls pick up the second-year option, the no-trade disappears.
Essentially, the Bulls felt by giving him more than the qualifying offer, Mirotic would help them out if they agreed to a trade. Mirotic is trying to use what leverage he has to get the second year picked up and land somewhere he'd like to play. He is the Bulls' leading scorer at 16.8 points.
It's unclear whether the Oct. 17 practice altercation that landed Mirtoic in the hospital or how the Bulls handled the aftermath has affected Mirotic's thinking on a potential trade. He told the Daily Herald a few weeks ago he'd enjoy staying with the Bulls and playing alongside Markkanen in a dual stretch-four lineup.
New Orleans presumably is interested in Mirotic on a one-year deal because it doesn't want to pay the luxury tax after re-signing Cousins this summer. The Pelicans are willing to send a first-round pick to get Asik's salary off their books. He has $14.2 million in guaranteed money left on his deal.
"I just want to enjoy playing basketball; that's all I want, all I need," Mirotic said. "So far I've been enjoying playing basketball. It's been really fun for me. The best basketball in my NBA career so far and that's only my goal.
"It's been day by day. Practice hard and improving myself. Consistency, that's my goal. The rest, it's not important."
The Salt Lake Tribune suggested the Utah Jazz still is interested in acquiring Mirotic but is reluctant to surrender a first-round pick.
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