The Most Important Free Agent for Chicago Bulls to Land This Offseason

James DavisAnalyst IApril 11, 2014

Nikola Mirotic (background)
Nikola Mirotic (background)Lefteris Pitarakis

Landing Nikola Mirotic should be the Chicago Bulls’ top priority this summer.

Now, he is not a free agent as defined by the NBA; however, Chicago can negotiate for his services just like they could for any other untethered athlete.

The glimmer of bigger names like Carmelo Anthony or the potential of rising prospects like Lance Stephenson may cause some to reject the assertion that an unproven European player should garner such attention, but the Real Madrid standout gives the Bulls the best chance of remaining relevant contenders for the foreseeable future.

When factoring in the continually improving game of Joakim Noah and the return of Derrick Rose, Mirotic could be the equivalent of what Toni Kukoc was during the franchise’s late-90s domination.

There are more hurdles involved in signing the Montenegro native than there would be in courting a stateside player, but it’s a pursuit that would pay off immensely.


Scouting Report and Role Analysis

Mirotic’s offensive skill set is what would best serve Chicago.

The team has players who can occasionally help carry the scoring load, but they have always lacked a consistent secondary option.

Their Euro prospect can readily fill that void.

Whether he’s coming off of a screen, spotting up or taking his defender off of the dribble, Mirotic is a fantastic shooter; he has range and a soft touch around the rim.

Couple his scoring ability with his 6’10” frame, and the potential becomes very apparent.

When he is inserted into a lineup that would include Rose, Jimmy Butler and Mike Dunleavy, the Bulls would present a potent combination of slashers and shooters who would wreak havoc on opposing defenses.

If a more traditional approach is desired, putting Mirotic on the wing with Noah and Taj Gibson manning the block would make for textbook inside/out basketball.

Size, or lack thereof, is his biggest flaw. The Euro big has length and athleticism, but he does not have the muscle to be effectively physical with more formidable post-players.

This would definitely be a minus on the defensive end, but head coach Tom Thibodeau’s defensive scheme is very good at minimizing the damage caused by weakest links.

In all fairness, it’s hard to imagine him being any more inept than Carlos Boozer, and per a scouting report by, Mirotic does a good job of moving his feet, staying with his assignment and putting forth a sincere effort.

Given Thibodeau’s track record for unlocking a player’s potential, there are more than enough attributes to improve upon with this prospect.

If the front office is truly building for the future, then adding Mirotic should be the starting point.


The Hurdles

In a February article by Nick Friedell of, Bulls vice president of basketball operations John Paxson would not speculate too much on whether Mirotic would be joining the team in the immediate future.

There are some delicate negotiations ahead, and the biggest complication seems to be Real Madrid’s 2.5 million euro buyout or $3.5 million American.

This fee will play a big role in the discussion surrounding salary. According to, a very small amount of a buyout does not count against the cap, about $600,000 in this case, but the rest comes out of the international player’s after-tax salary.

The amount that Mirotic would be paid would have to both fairly compensate the player as well as square away his would-be former club.

Mirotic battles for a rebound.
Mirotic battles for a rebound.Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

It gets even trickier. In that same Friedell piece, the writer makes an excellent point that a significantly higher salary could be owed to the overseas star because of his abounding success.

Mirotic’s 3.5 million euro salary is $4.8 million American dollars. The mid-level exception is little above $5 million, but it doesn’t seem like much for a player who has been a champion and MVP, especially when considering that he is being asked to uproot his family and start over in an entirely unfamiliar country.

Factor in his skill level, his accomplishments and the buyout, and a fair deal could end up somewhere between $7.5 and $10 million per year.

Chicago also has to do a good job of convincing Mirotic that changing teams and continents will be a rewarding endeavor.

The Real Madrid phenom is used to success, and one would have to hope that the potential to experience the ultimate NBA accomplishment would be enough to convince him to cross the Atlantic.


A Hazy Outlook

When looking for information to glean any insight as to whether Mirotic is leaning toward coming to Chicago or staying in Spain, clear answers are hard to come by.

Still, it's clear the player holds all of the chips here.

He has great leverage to get a very lucrative deal from either his current or prospective basketball club.

The question is for what does he hunger?

Mirotic has experienced championship success in Europe, but just how strong is the call of winning it all at basketball’s highest competitive level?

If it’s going to include this much hoop jumping, then why should the Bulls aggressively recruit him instead of saving money on flights and hotel costs by just going after one of the NBA’s soon-to-be available talents?

Well, the goal is to restore this franchise to its championship glory. A lot of pieces are in place, but the machine is still one cog away from running.

At just 23 years old, Mirotic represents a very long-term solution for the Bulls’ continued success.

He doesn’t have the miles on his legs like Anthony, and he doesn’t have the character issues of Stephenson.

He’s a smart, skilled player with a very high-ceiling.

If a sales pitch from someone who was in a very similar situation would help, then look no further than three-time champion Kukoc, the Croatian Sensation.

Bulls forward Toni Kukoc drives against Seattle Supersonics forward Detlef Schrempf.
Bulls forward Toni Kukoc drives against Seattle Supersonics forward Detlef Schrempf.Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

In an interview conducted by K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, the former Bulls forward reflected back on his NBA experience as it related to being a part of that dynasty. He said that his NBA experiences justified his decision to give up his very satisfying life and career in Europe:

A lot of people say if I had played for another team I would have averaged 20 (points), seven (rebounds) and seven (assists) and been an All-Star and this and that. But honestly, I wouldn't change one thing about my career, even the experience of going through those tough early times.

Winning championships is priceless. You have a million basketball players going through their careers and they never get close to a championship and their highlight would be the second round of the playoffs or playing in one All-Star game.

That is a great big-picture perspective that should serve as the basis for enticing Mirotic to sign.