The Chicago Bulls have waited a long time to see what 2011 first-rounder Nikola Mirotic can add to their championship puzzle. With the draft-and-stash prospect finally making his arrival, they owe it to themselves to find out if their patience will be rewarded.
Yes, even if it that means missing out on the opportunity to add Minnesota Timberwolves double-double machine Kevin Love.
Love is undeniably one of the NBA's premier players. With good size (6'10", 260 pounds), better shooting touch (37.6 three-point percentage last season) and great numbers (26.1 points, 12.5 rebounds and 4.4 assists), he could breeze into the Windy City and immediately become the best teammate former MVP Derrick Rose has ever had.
If the Bulls could swap Mirotic for Love straight up, that's a trade they probably would—and definitely should—do 11 times out of 10.
But the deal wouldn't work like that. The price on Chicago's end would be significantly higher.
Chris Sheridan of SheridanHoops.com reported that the Bulls had offered an "extremely intriguing" package of Mirotic, Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott for Love.
Darren Wolfson of 1500ESPN.com heard the same thing from his sources:
Consider that cost along with the potential return, and suddenly we're having an entirely different conversation.
Frankly, it's a discussion that no longer seems necessary. Regardless what the Bulls think of Mirotic's potential or Love's production, they already made a commitment to the European import's future.
"Mirotic bought out his contract with Real Madrid of the Spanish League only after the Bulls committed to keeping him in Chicago, according to a source familiar with negotiations," reported David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune (subscription required).
Obviously, a promise is only as binding as the Bulls want it to be. It's not like Mirotic's NBA ticket came with a no-trade clause attached.
Assuming they stick to their word, though, this decision has already been made. And it's absolutely the right call.
In a league of superstars, there aren't many situations were quantity trumps quality. This, however, is one of the exceptions, particularly with so much of the quality of Chicago's outgoing quantity still unknown.
The Bulls' offer is loaded with intrigue, and none of the names involved on their end cause more scouts to salivate than that of the 23-year-old Mirotic.
As Mike Schmitz of DraftExpress.com noted, the Montenegrin forward brings a potent blend of skills and smarts to the hardwood:
"He is a 6-[foot-]10, young floor spacer who can really shoot it," ESPN's Fran Fraschilla said during an appearance on ESPN 1000's Waddle and Silvy Show (h/t ESPN Chicago's Nick Friedell). "But [he] also has enough skill to be able to drive it on occasion. Play around the basket some."
In other words, Mirotic is a scoring threat from inside and out, making him a tantalizing pick-and-choose (slip, pop, roll) partner for Rose. Does that description sound vaguely familiar?
Now, that's not to suggest that Mirotic is on the fast track to becoming Kevin Love 2.0. There is no telling which direction Mirotic will head in the NBA until he, you know, starts playing NBA games.
However, it's impossible to hear those descriptions from scouts and not be fascinated by his potential fit with Chicago. He still needs to prove himself on this stage, but the Bulls aren't getting an undeveloped project here.
"Though just 23 years old, he's played professionally for four seasons, has 97 games with Real Madrid under his belt and countless others in international tournament play," noted Comcast SportsNet's Mark Strotman. "More impressively, he's shown progress in that time."
What type of progress has he shown? Bleacher Report's Kelly Scaletta answered that question:
He won the Euroleague Rising Star Award his first two seasons, awarded to the best player under 22 on July 1 the summer before it starts. He is the only two-time winner in the award’s history.
He won the ACB MVP awarded to the best professional player in Spain for 2013. He won the Copa del Rey de Baloncesto MVP in 2014.
Essentially, that’s the equivalent of the Rookie of the Year, MVP and Finals MVP of the league he plays in.
How's that for progress?
His stat sheet, courtesy of EuroLeague.net, highlights the growth in his game and the lethal shooting stroke he possesses:
|Tracking Mirotic's Last Four EuroLeague Seasons with Real Madrid|
Obviously, those aren't Love-type numbers. However, they don't have to be for Chicago to justify this decision.
Remember, this wouldn't be a Mirotic-for-Love transaction.
By maintaining their depth, the Bulls can get similar production to Love's from a variety of players.
Love is a great shooter for his size. Ditto for Mirotic. And the 6'8" McDermott isn't too shabby himself: 45.8 three-point percentage in college, 44.4 percent at the Las Vegas Summer League.
Love is a very good passing post player. Bulls center Joakim Noah is even better, and newcomer Pau Gasol isn't far behind—if he's behind at all. Noah led all players 6'10" or taller with 5.4 assists last season, while Love held the second spot on that list (4.4), and Gasol checked in at No. 6 (3.4).
Love is also one of the game's great rebounders.
His 12.5 rebounding average was third-best in the league last season, but Noah's 11.2 mark netted him the sixth spot in the category. Gasol has corralled double-digit boards in three of the last five seasons. Gibson isn't at that level, but his career 9.2 rebounds per 36 minutes shows what kind of impact he can have on the glass.
The Bulls can get floor spacing, pinpoint passing and rugged rebounding out of their Love-less frontcourt. They'll also get elite athleticism and top-shelf rim protection, two weapons that aren't in Love's arsenal.
And, in Mirotic, they'll get a drool-worthy prospect with tremendous room for growth. If the Bulls have any intention of dealing him, there's no reason to pull the trigger now. Let him prove his worth—and build his trade value—before deciding if he's the type of player they'd be willing to part with.
He needs some seasoning, but this team has depth. It can afford to wait.
"Nikola will have to get used to the speed and strength of the NBA game. There are different rules. There will be an adjustment there," said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, via K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune. "What I'm anticipating is he will get better as the season goes along."
Given what Mirotic has accomplished already, that could be a scary thought for the rest of the Eastern Conference.
The Bulls have been dreaming about this moment for a long time. They're making the right decision by seeing if reality is anything like they imagined.
Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.