Chicago Bulls: Nikola Mirotic trade is worth considering

The Bulls have been reborn since Nikola Mirotic rejoined the lineup. Yet, could they profit in the long term with his departure?

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(Photo Credit: Rachael)

At 3-20, the Chicago Bulls looked set for a painfully long season. But since Nikola Mirotic returned from facial fractures sustained during an altercation with teammate Bobby Portis, the team has improved drastically, bouncing to a 13-24 record at the time of writing. Mirotic has been instrumental in this run of form, averaging 18.3 points and 7.3 rebounds in his 14 games so far this season. The Bulls even went on a seven-game winning run immediately following Mirotic’s return.

Rampaging young Bulls

There are exciting times ahead for this Bulls team, which boasts a fairly deep roster of talent that plays tough, hard-nosed basketball. Kris Dunn has looked like the player Minnesota thought they were drafting with the fifth overall pick in 2016, and Lauri Markkanen is having a season worthy of All-Rookie First Team honors. When Zach LaVine returns, the Bulls will have even more scoring power and youth to add to an already young and promising core. 

Chicago area also in a great position for free agency, with their core still on rookie contracts. Only Robin Lopez and Mirotic are signed on next season for contracts worth over ten million dollars, at $14.3 million and $12.5 million, respectively. If Chicago can make themselves an attractive enough prospect, they could try to bring in a marquee free agent to become the new leader of the franchise. 

Although things are going well on the court, the Bulls organisation should seriously consider trading Mirotic this season. It was widely reported that he was looking for a trade at the start of the campaign, and now his value is higher than ever given the stats he’s been putting up and the way he’s turned around the team’s season. Given Mirotic’s sudden rise, the Bulls might secure a solid first round pick, or an expiring contract to leave them with even more money come free agency this summer. 

Ignore the playoffs

But the more pressing question is whether the Bulls should tank this season. The 2018 draft is the last year where the worst team in the league has the best chance statistically (25%) to get the number one pick. From 2019 onwards, the three worst teams in the league will each have a 14% chance of securing the top pick, helping reduce the allure of tanking. 

There’s no doubt that on current form, the Bulls could sneak into the playoffs. But perhaps they should reconsider their objectives. Mirotic and a first-round exit in the playoffs is not as worthwhile as potentially picking up Marvin Bagley III or Luka Doncic with the number one pick in the draft, to partner with Markkanen in the Chicago front court. 

Learn from Magic Johnson

The Los Angeles Lakers took a similar route last February when they traded Lou Williams to the Houston Rockets for Corey Brewer and a first-round pick, which eventually became the 28th pick in the draft. The pick was subsequently traded for two picks that became Josh Hart and Thomas Bryant. While Bryant has seen most of his action in the G-League, Josh Hart has been an important spark for the team, and already looks like a promising 3 and D player. 

Aside from Hart, trading Williams was necessary for the Lakers to draft Lonzo Ball. The Lakers were too high in the standings to be in the hunt for a top pick with Lou Williams, which also meant that it would have also gone to Philadelphia as it was only protected in the top five. Acquiring three promising rookie talents, including a point guard tipped to be the staple of the franchise, isn’t bad turnover for a player of Williams’ caliber, talented as he may be. 

Speeding up the rebuild

Lightning doesn’t tend to strike twice, and being intentionally uncompetitive is bad for sports. However, if trading Mirotic could make the Bulls more successful by acquiring a young star with the potential to be the face of the franchise, it seems like a no-brainer. It would be fitting to have one last tanking season before its potency is heavily reduced. With a core of Dunn, Lavine, Markkanen and potentially Bagley III, the Bulls could have a real shot at securing a player like DeMarcus Cousins to complete the five. And what a team that could become, especially with the bench still intact on cheap contracts (aside from Mirotic). 

There’s no guarantee that trading Mirotic would cause the Bulls to return to old form, but even a team half as bad as before could still drop to the worst team in the league. If they play their cards right, perhaps the Chicago Bulls’ rebuild could be over sooner rather than later.