Twenty-one-year-old Nikola Mirotic is currently giving Chicago Bulls fans a major reason for excitement.
If you're an avid Bulls fan and don't know who Mirotic is, the time to learn about the prospect from Spain is now. The Bulls landed him in the 2011 draft, and he could become an integral part of Chicago's core in the next few years.
In both games, Mirotic raised the eyebrows of coaches, players and fans. Against Memphis, he tallied 14 points (connecting on two three-pointers) and seven rebounds in 29 minutes.
He followed that with a double-double against Toronto, netting 17 points, 12 rebounds and an impressive three blocks in 37 minutes of action.
Members of the Memphis Grizzlies were exceptionally impressed, specifically All-Star big man Marc Gasol (who is also a Spaniard).
According to Bulls blogger Sam Smith, Gasol noted,
"He’s a real good player. He knows how to play the game, understands how it works, plays the right way moving the ball. He’s a new version of the old stretch power forward in Europe with a post game as well. He’s a good shooter and you have to know where he is. If he comes over, he definitely has the talent."
Further, Mirotic's coach, Pablo Laso, compared his 6'10'' forward to Dirk Nowitzki. I know we've heard this before about European players, but Mirotic's game appears to genuinely warrant such a comparison.
What's evident is that Mirotic has a huge upside and could become a valuable player in the NBA. He's turning heads convincingly and, seemingly, would fit wondrously with the Bulls' stellar core.
But this is where things get complicated. Mirotic's contract with Real Madrid makes getting him onto Chicago's team tricky. Or, perhaps "a lengthy process" is the way to say it.
Sam Smith details these complications in this manner,
"Under NBA rules, since he was a low first round draft pick, Mirotic would be limited to that salary slot, which is far below his Real Madrid salary, for three years. After that, the Bulls could pay Mirotic if they are under the salary cap or with an exception. Since Mirotic is under contract with Real Madrid, there is a substantial penalty if he leaves early. But once a European club realizes a player wants to come to the NBA, they tend to negotiate. Once Mirotic is free of the three-year NBA salary slot, he theoretically could pay for a substantial buyout and still make money. Before three years he could not as NBA teams can only pay a limited amount of a potential buyout."
This is clearly complicated. There are numerous hoops to jump through, and the likelihood is that Mirotic will play for Real Madrid through at least the 2013-14 season, making 2014-15 the year when Bulls fans can hope to see him in red and white.
This will certainly test the patience of Bulls fans, who are urgently desiring a superstar to pair with Derrick Rose. But there are a few thoughts to keep in mind here.
Firstly (and most importantly), Mirotic is intrigued at the thought of playing for the Bulls.
“I was really happy when the Chicago Bulls picked me. It is a club with a great history. After I was drafted, I have been following them more. They have a great player, Derrick Rose, one of the best players in the NBA, and maybe in the future I will have an opportunity to share a locker room with him.”
These statements convey legitimate interest in one day joining the Bulls, especially since he also indicated that he definitely wants to come to the NBA at some point.
This leads to the second thought.
It might be best for him to come in two to three years, when he will be hitting his prime (23-24-years old) and should be able to contribute significantly. Right now, he could likely play a role for the Bulls, but it's unlikely that he would receive many minutes at a power forward position that already features Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson.
Therefore, he can continue to develop overseas and arrive in a couple years with increased maturity. Plus, come this time, Rose will have (hopefully) returned to his MVP self, the Bulls will have likely lured a more potent two-guard and the two will simply be older and more battle-tested.
Lastly, Mirotic is a major reminder that the future of the Bulls is still remarkably bright.
With Mirotic most likely coming to the Windy City in the next few years, and with the fact that the Bulls still possess a Charlotte Bobcats first round pick, there should be some compelling new additions to Chicago's core in the next few years.
What's more, Rose, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Taj Gibson and coach Tom Thibodeau should all be a part of the long-term plan in Chicago. This core has already shown the success these men can garner together.
And this core is only going to become fortified in the years to come.
Bulls fans need to keep this in mind throughout this (and potentially next) year, and the encouraging development of Mirotic is a solid reason to remember this long-term outlook. His potential is great, and the Bulls may have struck gold with the seemingly random draft selection they made in the summer of 2011.
Bulls fans, if you're disgruntled and dreading watching a lineup lacking playmakers, set your sights on the future.
There is still hope in Chicago, and one of the most promising athletes is blossoming in front of the basketball world. Nikola Mirotic appears to be a budding superstar, and the hope is that, in a few years, we will witness him and Rose carving apart defenses with a lethal pick-and-roll.