Nikola Mirotic is finally coming to America. Multiple European media outlets are reporting that the Bulls' first round draft pick in 2011 has decided to leave Real Madrid, and tubasket.com says that former Bull Andres Nocioni will be replacing him on their roster.
The Spanish website 24segundosenblanco.es reported on Friday that "Mirotic will play next season in the NBA". The story didn't get into the details, but they were the first to proclaim that Mirotic definitely will be a Bull this season.
This is great news for the Bulls, of course, as Mirotic brings the team exactly what they need - offense. Everyone is familiar with the resume Mirotic brings to Chicago - 2011 and 2012 Euroleague Rising Star Award, 2013 ACB MVP, 2013 and 2014 Second Team All-Euroleague, 2014 Copa Del Rey de Baloncesto MVP, 2013 and 2014 First Team All-ACB (the ACB is the professional league in Spain, which is the top national league in Europe).
For those who haven't seen Mirotic play, here's a glimpse of what he'll bring to the United Center:
Mirotic 2013-14 Copa Del Rey Highlights
Until the last few days, it wasn't certain whether or not Mirotic would come to Chicago this season. There was the matter of his buyout with Real Madrid, which is currently 2.5 million Euros ($3,411,187 at today's exchange rate). Even though Real Madrid agreed to accept the buyout in payments, Mirotic could wait a year, leave Spain next summer, and pay nothing. That's a lot of money to be saved, since the Bulls can only pay $600,000 of his buyout.
Mirotic had been very happy playing for Real Madrid, the best team in Europe, but the situation apparently changed completely over the last month. Thanks to two recently published (in Spanish) Eurosport articles - "30 days without Mirotic" and "Or Recognition? Titles? Now what?" - the details have now become public.
Mirotic had long maintained that he would like to win a Euroleague championship before he came to the NBA, and while he maintained throughout the 2013-14 season that he wouldn't delay coming to Chicago just because he hadn't won a Euroleague title, he apparently changed his mind.
According to Eurosport, on May 20 - right after his wife gave birth to their first child, and only two days after Real Madrid's shocking upset loss to Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Euroleague Championship Game - Mirotic called his agent. He reportedly told his agent that he wanted to stay in Madrid for another year. He wanted to win a Euroleague championship before he crossed the pond.
There was, however, one condition to this wish - Mirotic wanted to be paid like one of the top players in Europe. His agent told Real Madrid that his client wanted to be paid one of the top 5 salaries in Europe. My research tells me that he would need to get around 3 million Euros (just over $4 million) to reach that goal, while Real Madrid reportedly offered about half that amount.
In the interim, Mirotic had gone above and beyond the call of duty as a teammate - he left his wife and newborn child at the hospital to join Real Madrid for their game that night against Gipuzkoa Basket. He played only four minutes in that game, his hand still visibly hurting from an injury he suffered in the Euroleague final. Mirotic and Real Madrid coach Pablo Laso have a heated argument, with the coach reportedly complaining that Mirotic showed up to play tired from the birth of his child and hurting from the injury.
The relationship between Mirotic and both the club and its coach goes downhill from there. Quickly. While Mirotic had always accepted his role as the 4th option on offense because his Real Madrid teammates were all much more experienced, the situation apparently got much worse over the past month.
Mirotic was lucky to get 20 minutes in most games, and he rarely touched the ball on offense. While you can't say Real Madrid fell apart at the end of the season solely because of the coach's feud with Mirotic, it can't be a mere coincidence that they lost the ACB Finals 3 games to 1 against a Barcelona team they had thoroughly blown out in the Euroleague Final Four.
All of this Euro-drama is a huge positive for Bulls fans. Mirotic is a major addition to the 2014-15 roster, as he will be the team's first power forward with 3-point range since (ironically) Nocioni.
Mirotic "Prospect Next" Scouting Video
The question now is "how do the Bulls fit Mirotic into their salary structure"? For the most part, you can find the answer in my last article. It will still depend on Carmelo Anthony, and whether or not Phil Jackson will do a sign and trade if Melo decides he wants to be a Bull.
There is no doubt that the Bulls still see Mirotic as a huge part of their future, and they will undoubtedly do whatever it takes to get Niko to Chicago this summer. And I firmly believe that Melo is still priority #1 for GarPax this summer, because adding him to the roster makes the team immediate contenders even if Derrick Rose suffers another season-ending injury.
Mirotic being a certainty to cross the pond this summer does give the Bulls a little bit more leverage when negotiating a contract with Melo. Having Niko on the roster makes it easier to trade Taj Gibson for little to no salary - Melo wants to sign with a team that has a roster capable of contending for a championship this season, and having Mirotic available to replace Taj's minutes keeps the Bulls in that position.
As I pointed out in the "Amnesty Boozer" article, the Bulls can replace Gibson and Dunleavy with Mirotic and McDermott and lose very little on the court - in fact, it's certainly possible that Mirotic/McDermott is a net positive over Gibson/Dunleavy. The moves certainly improve the Bulls' 3-point shooting, and we've all seen that the Bulls can have an elite defense even with non-defenders Carlos Boozer and Kyle Korver playing big minutes.
It's going to be an exciting summer for the Bulls, and while the Mirotic signing isn't yet official, it is going to happen sooner rather than later. The only question is how much the Bulls can pay him, and that question will be answered as soon as the team knows exactly which free agent they will be adding, and whether or not they will be able to do a sign and trade or not.
It all starts with Carmelo Anthony. Rumor has it that he plans to meet with the Bulls at 12:01 AM on July 1st, which is when free agents can officially begin negotiating with teams. Buckle up Bulls fans, it should be a wild, wild ride.