It's only December, but every once in a while an interesting rumor or two make the rounds, stirring up intrigue despite the trade deadline being two months away.
Below, we'll break down two of the rumors that have emerged in recent days.
Nikola Mirotic and Robin Lopez on the Block?
Since Bobby Portis badly injured Nikola Mirotic by punching him during a practice in October, there have been questions about Mirotic's future in Chicago. While Portis was suspended eight games for the incident, Mirotic didn't return from his injuries until early December.
Many of the questions have revolved around whether the pair could coexist. While that hasn't been an issue on the court thus far, the Bulls reportedly have put Mirotic on the trade block nonetheless.
K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune reported that: "According to one Eastern Conference executive and one Western Conference executive, the Bulls have made preliminary inquiries on Mirotic’s value, along with Robin Lopez's. The Bulls, who are under the salary-cap floor, are seeking to add future assets in terms of draft picks without taking on long-term contracts."
He added that "part of the Bulls’ rebuilding strategy is to get as high a pick as possible in a 2018 draft that is loaded at the top."
The Bulls aren't flush with appealing trade chips. Lauri Markkanen is surely untouchable. Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn probably belong in that category as well. Players like Denzel Valentine, Jerian Grant and Paul Zipser don't have great trade value. So if the Bulls are looking to accumulate draft assets, players like Mirotic, Lopez and perhaps even Justin Holiday or Portis will have to be moved.
Holiday is due to make $4.3 million next year. Portis will make $2.4 million. It's hard to imagine why the Bulls would move either of those affordable deals, especially since both players have been solid for them this season.
The Bulls would likely love to move off of Mirotic and Lopez, however, as the pair will make a combined $26.8 million next season (Mirotic's $12.5 million salary is a non-guaranteed team option, per Spotrac.com, though the Bulls could lose him for nothing in the offseason if they don't trade him this year and pick up that option over the summer). Moving those two for draft assets and expiring contracts would be the dream.
The Bulls will have solid cap space next season, even considering LaVine is likely to get a lucrative contract in restricted free agency in the offseason and the fact that they'll likely be paying a top-five pick a decent amount. Still, there's something to be said about accumulating as many draft assets as possible while also maintaining salary cap flexibility.
The Bulls apparently believe as much. Moving either Mirotic or Lopez, or both, would give the Bulls the cap space to attract a solid free agent. Add a first-round pick or two, and the Bulls' rebuild may not be such a long and arduous process.
Courtney Lee Overtures
Courtney Lee has been good for the New York Knicks this season, averaging 12.7 points while shooting 43.2 percent from three and 47.8 percent from the field. Add in his solid defense, and it wasn't terribly surprising when Ian Begley of ESPN.com reported last week that "opposing teams continue to show interest in Lee."
At the moment, however, the Knicks have minimal incentive to move Lee. The team is in the playoff discussion thus far and, with Tim Hardaway out of action, has been relying on Lee even more heavily.
Lee has been responding, and folks have taken notice:
If the Knicks slump, however, and don't believe they'll make a playoff run this season, why not deal Lee? The goal in New York should be to build around Kristaps Porzingis, Frank Ntilikina and Hardaway. Adding some draft assets for Lee—while clearing the $24.9 million he's due to make over the next two years from their books—would be a logical move for the rebuilding Knicks.
Certainly, he'll be a hot commodity for any playoff teams looking to add consistency to the wings. He's been a major factor in the Knicks playing like a potential playoff team thus far.