As Nikola Mirotic continues to make a name for himself overseas, the Chicago Bulls' future looks brighter and brighter. After all, general manager Gar Forman is the one who made the savvy move of acquiring his rights after he was drafted at No. 23 in the 2011 NBA draft.
However, it's not quite as simple as waiting for him to make his way to the United States.
The Bulls must complete a complicated process in order to lure Mirotic away from Real Madrid—the basketball team, not the more famous soccer team—and into a red-and-black jersey. It's tough, but it is indeed doable.
The long-term plan is to have Mirotic replace Carlos Boozer, who will likely be the victim of the amnesty clause after the 2013-14 season plays out. Between Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose and Marquis Teague, the Bulls already have over $42 million committed for the 2014-15 campaign. That obviously doesn't include Luol Deng, who is presumably still a part of Chicago's long-term plans.
If the Bulls want to avoid harsh luxury-tax penalties and keep the core of their lineup together, replacing Boozer with the younger and cheaper Mirotic is necessary.
So, can they make it happen? And, perhaps more importantly, is Mirotic actually capable of immediately replacing Boozer's production in the Windy City?
Let's take a look.
Can They Get Nikola Mirotic on the Roster?
The following quote, spoken by Forman on the "Waddle and Silvy Show," comes to us via ESPNChicago's Nick Friedell:
You're slotted in the first round, and I think the slot for No. 24 is $1.3 or $1.4 million. Well, he makes a lot more money than that right now over at Real Madrid. So the way the CBA is written is after three years then you're no longer slotted. Then you can use whether it's exception room or cap room in order to pay a guy. So there's no possibility this summer [of getting him] because next year will be his third year. But after next year, the summer of 2014, then we'll be able to start some negotiations as far as a buyout possibly with Real Madrid or negotiate with him to come over here.
Forman is a little bit off since Mirotic was actually the No. 23 pick, but he's close. If the power forward joined the Bulls this offseason, he'd make $1,038,900. The sentiment still applies, though, as that's less money than he's making with Real Madrid. His salary with the Spanish team has not been disclosed, but it's presumably larger than that rookie-scale deal.
Three years after an international player—note: on an international team, not just a foreign prospect—is drafted, his contract no longer needs to operate on the rookie scale. That's why the 2014 offseason is the magic time for Mirotic. And when that summer hits, the Bulls will have around $20 million in cap room, assuming that the amnesty clause is used on Boozer.
They'll be able to afford a salary large enough to please Mirotic, probably involving the $5 million mid-level exception, but they still have to complete a buyout with Real Madrid. That's the trickier part.
Will Nikola Mirotic ever play for the Chicago Bulls?
According to DraftExpress, this buyout would be $3 million, unless Chicago waits until his latest contract with the Spanish club expires, which doesn't happen until 2016.
Assuming that the deal occurs in 2014, the Excluded International Player Payment Amount would save the Bulls $600,000 of that $3 million, but the rest would be applied to the team's salary-cap figures in the form of a signing bonus.
That's a hefty sum to pay, but it's likely that Forman is willing to bite the bullet and bring the talented 4 across the pond. To do so, though, Boozer has to be smitten from the records.
And for that to be worthwhile, Mirotic has to be better than Boozer.
Is He Capable of Replacing Carlos Boozer?
To reward you for wading through all of the numbers and salary-cap mumbo jumbo, here's a one-word answer: yes.
Replacing Boozer isn't all that difficult; all you have to do is make positive contributions. Chicago fans don't typically like to acknowledge this, but the Bulls were actually worse on both ends of the court when Boozer played during the 2012-13 season.
According to NBA.com's statistical databases, Chicago scored 99.3 points per 100 possessions with the power forward on the court and 102.5 when he took a breather. On defense, the Bulls allowed 102 points per 100 possessions when Boozer played and only 97.4 when he sat.
Basically, Boozer is great at putting up empty stats that result from a lot of playing time. If you're going to try defending him after that, good luck.
But enough about the Duke product. Let's move on to Mirotic.
By all accounts, this 22-year-old is an absolute stud. He won the rising star award in back-to-back seasons, the only player in ACB league history to do so. Then, this May, he was named MVP of the league, erasing Marc Gasol's name in the record books as the youngest player to do so.
The 6'10" power forward steered Real Madrid to a sparkling 30-4 record while putting up 12.6 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. He shot 50.5 percent from the field and 43.5 percent from behind the three-point arc, lending credence to the claims that he could be the next premier stretch-4 in the Association.
The ACB is not the NBA, but it's one of the top-flight European leagues, so these honors are not to be taken lightly. They show an appreciation for his game that delves beyond the realm of statistics.
Assuming he joins the Bulls, what is Mirotic's ceiling?
Mirotic is about as smart as it gets on the basketball court, and he's also a very skilled player. He routinely shows off advanced moves—his spin is especially devastating—and his knack for passing lives up to the quality we've come to expect from Spanish bigs.
Although he struggles on defense, he'd stil be an upgrade over Boozer, and he at least has the size to get in the way sometimes. That shouldn't be much of a concern, and Tom Thibodeau will probably find some way to mask his shortcomings on that end of the floor.
Long story short, Bulls fans have a right to be excited about the prospect of Mirotic joining the squad for the 2014-15 season. There are more than a few hurdles in the way, but it remains possible that the lineup that year could have a distinct international flavor.