Getting 1st-round draft pick for Nikola Mirotic is big win for Bulls

David Haugh
Chicago Tribune

Mystery shrouded the brief Bulls career of Niko Mirotic, the native of Montenegro who speaks four languages but never made the message clear that NBA stardom awaited him in Chicago.

It didn’t.

The Bulls managed to finagle a first-round pick for Mirotic anyway. Somewhere, Stacey King is asking for the hot sauce.

The Pelicans will send Omer Asik, Tony Allen, Jameer Nelson and a first-round pick to the Bulls for Mirotic and a second-round pick.

If you are keeping score in the Bulls’ rebuilding process, GarPax just hit a deep 3-pointer to go up by double digits. Or is a steal a better analogy?

For all the criticism Bulls executive vice president John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman receive for, well, everything, fairness dictates that the duo get their due now. This marked another solid step toward returning the Bulls to NBA legitimacy.

Sources indicate the Bulls will waive Allen and likely Nelson, eventually, but both players needed to be included to match up salaries. Asik, whose departure from the Bulls after the 2011-12 rankled former coach Tom Thibodeau, returns with $11.2 million due for next season but only a $3 million guarantee on his deal for 2019-20. None of the players the Bulls are getting matter as much as the one they have yet to meet.

This trade was all about the first-round draft pick Paxson sought for a player not considered part of their future, a guy who expressed his desire to leave after an altercation with Bobby Portis last October that left Mirotic with a fractured face. This is the Bulls turning a negative into a positive, for everybody, and making the best of a bad situation.

Mirotic and Portis coexisted, communicating on the court but not speaking off it, their relationship irreparably harmed by Portis’ punch. You can see why Mirotic wanted to move on from a situation the Bulls handled as well as could be expected. And you can see why the Bulls saw more value in keeping Portis, one of their steadiest players who projects as a contributor when the team is a playoff contender again.

When Mirotic blocked the trade Tuesday because the Pelicans had not yet committed to pick up the second year of his $12.5 million team option, the assertiveness mirrored the way he has played this year. The Pelicans are getting a shooter who can spread the floor and will arrive motivated to prove all he needed was a change of scenery.

If only Mirotic’s overall game had developed as fully as his beard.

Forget the 25-game flash Mirotic showed this season, in which he discovered post defense, averaged 16.8 points and showed enough confidence to begin referring to himself in the third person. If the Bulls thought Mirotic could help them win the East again, they would have done more last summer than sign the 26-year-old forward to such a tradable, two-year contract.

It took too long for Mirotic to fulfill the promise the Bulls saw in him when Forman, especially, oversold his arrival from Real Madrid in 2014. Too often, playing with dominant personalities such as Jimmy Butler and, last year, Dwyane Wade made Mirotic meek and difficult to count on in the clutch. Then, this year, the emergence of rookie Lauri Markkanen made Mirotic somewhat redundant.

Mirotic played like an All-Star in March, but the problem was the other months of the NBA season. Trading him brings the Bulls closer to one day playing in June again.

dhaugh@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @DavidHaugh

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