Mirotic’s Comments to Spanish Media Regarding His Contract Extension and Draft Selection
This is the second of four articles on Chicago Bulls 2011 draft pick Nikola Mirotić, who is quickly becoming one of the better basketball players in Europe. Today we'll reveal what Mirotic has been telling Spanish media about the selection. Next week we’ll dig into the calculus behind exactly what options Chicago has to bring over Mirotic before the 2017-2018 season (yes, you read that right), given the limitations of the new CBA. In the final article, we’ll examine what in the world each side was thinking when the Chicago Bulls and Nikola Mirotic entered into a contract they had no intention of consummating for 3-6 years.
Nikola Mirotic signed a five-year extension with the Spanish professional basketball team Real Madrid in April of 2011, which keeps him under contract until the 2015-2016 season (with a unilateral team option for 2016-2017). According to KC Johnson, Gar Forman recently said, “In our speaking with [Mirotic], his desire and dream is to play in the NBA at some point.”
In an October interview with USA Today-affiliated HoopsHype.com, Mirotic claimed that the possibility of being selected by Chicago was the reason that he remained in the 2011 draft in spite of his contract extension (it should be noted that he gave the interview after being picked by the Bulls, and that a few answers later he says he is very happy in Madrid and may not come to the NBA until his five year contract is up).
So if Bulls fans are getting what they want to hear, Mirotic must be breaking some pretty bad news to his Spanish fan base, right? Turns out he says all the right things to them, too, and more convincingly. This is even more true considering that he willingly signed a contract that included a huge penalty for leaving for the NBA, and actions speak louder than words. Following are my crude translations of several interviews he has given to the Spanish press over the last fourteen months.
March, 2011: After winning his first Rising Star Trophy, Mirotic contemplates declaring himself an early entry candidate for the NBA Draft (his natural draft year would be 2013). While some rumors in Spain have Mirotic going as high as fifth, realistic projections have him in the lower first round.
El Mundo: “Most likely I’ll declare for the next [NBA] Draft, although I want to be here as long as possible. I like the NBA, but it doesn’t draw me as much as other young men.”
Who were your childhood heroes growing up, in soccer and basketball?
When you’re young you always pick a hero. I chose Dirk Nowitzki, but I never said I wanted to be like him or that I was going to be like him. [Soccer portion omitted because no one cares.]
When did you realize you could make a living playing basketball?
With my growth spurt I began to believe it. Also when I came to Madrid. I realized that this was something serious. I took it seriously in my country, but not as much. Upon arriving here I understood how this world works, how you have to work, what you have to do…I learned a lot.
All the people around you say you had being an elite player in mind, and you were going to do everything possible to become one.
I hope that it happens. I’ve always tried to give my all in practice and on the court. I am a simple guy that likes to work. The things I do, I try to do well, the right way. One of the most important things in sports is to have character, work hard, and focus.
And of everything you can do on the court, which is a lot, what do you enjoy the most?
Making a three. It’s what I like most. It’s my favorite play.
Tell me something you should improve.
Many things. I am very young and I’m working on it. The first is defense. Defensive fundamentals are the most important.
How’s Madrid’s locker room to a 20 year old kid?
Really good. Everyone treats me well, like one of the guys. There’s always someone who gives you a little bit of a hard time. It’s normal. I get along with everyone.
How is it training with one of the best coaches in Europe?
Great. I am very happy and want to keep working. Ettore is one of the best coaches out there. In practice he corrects me and the whole team, but it’s normal and necessary. We need a coach like that, who makes us get better.
Did you imagine a season like this, being so important for the team?
Honestly, I didn’t think the season could go like this for me. When I wasn’t playing, I tried to train and work well, cheer on my teammates. My goal is to always be there, help the team, whether I’m playing or not. I knew that my chance would come and I believe I’ve taken advantage of it. Now I have to keep going and I still want to learn more and bring more to the team.
At 20 you’re already leading one of the most important teams in Europe in demanding games, like the Siena game. How does it feel?
The team helps me a lot. Teams concentrate on Llull, Felipe, and others, so opportunities open up for me. The important thing is that the team is winning; we’re atop the ACB and the Euroleague. I want to stay on this path, bring even more, because I know I can.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given since becoming a star?
That I’m still no star. I’m a young kid that needs to work a lot. There is no advice in particular. A lot of people give advice to me, players, coaches…they tell me to focus, work hard, and support the team.
Do you think about the Spanish selection [the Olympic team] next summer?
Honestly, not much. I’m concentrating on Madrid and my mind his here. I want to keep winning and helping the team. There’s still much to do and I’m 100% focused.
Would you like to [play for Spain in the Olympics]?
Yes, of course. Anyone would like to be surrounded by such good players.
Was it tough deciding between Montenegro and Spain? Was there family pressure?
There’s always some pressure, and you never know what can happen, but I’ve never thought I made a mistake. I feel like any Spaniard, I am thankful and I’ve made my life in Spain. This team and this country have given everything to me and my family. I am very happy and enjoying it.
A test of how Spanish you are: what’s your favorite food?
I love paella and cured ham. [Translation: Chicago is screwed.]
Can we talk about the NBA?
I am very happy here and I want to stay here fulfilling my dreams.
April 2011: Mirotic signs a five-year contract extension, with a team option for the 2016-2017 season. Both quotes below are from the same article, after signing the extension.
“I am very happy, I’ve realized a dream, Real Madrid is the best team in the world. I’ve signed for the length that I wanted, and on top of that with a team that feels like home. Now I just want to keep making my dreams come true and win as many titles as possible with Real Madrid. I wouldn’t go to the NBA now even if I was picked number 5 in the draft.”
“I want to stay here and be a Real Madrid player as long as possible. This team has given me everything. Now I have many goals in front of me that I want to achieve. I am very happy on the team. I feel very lucky being able to share a locker room with great teammates. We have a great group and I’m convinced that the best is yet to come.”
Feb 2012: Mirotic sits down for an interview with Planeta ACB after winning the King’s Cup in Spain.
Let’s start with the fact that this was your first title, the King’s Cup. How have you taken the experience?
Really well, of course, same as the rest of the team. We won this title for the first time in 19 years, and therefore maybe it tastes better. We went to Barcelona to win it, it was one of our main objectives, and it gives us a lot of hope for the future.
So you trust that having won is the start of some positive momentum?
The truth is that our morale has increased quite a bit, though we’ll never lose the excitement or the will to keep working. We don’t want to settle for the Cup, we’ll fight to get another title.
Of the two [titles] that remain, one that seems pretty complicated is the Euroleague’s…
We know that it’s unlikely for us that Unicaja beats Bilbao, but we should concentrate on trying to do our job, go to Siena to win, and we’ll see if we’re lucky. We hope so, because it would be a shame. We want to want to rise above the group, and of course also try to take the Euroleague whatever happens on Thursday. [I skipped a couple questions here as they get in to more specifics about which teams they need to beat and which teams need to lose for them to win the Euroleague title.]
The Euroleague is also a competition in which you’ve done particularly well, as much last year (Best Young Player) as this one…
Honestly, it’s not that I’m more motivated because it’s the Euroleage, I just always try to go out focused to help my team. Some days it turns out well and others it doesn’t, but the important thing is to keep working and project positive energy on the court.
You’re a player already totally at home on a great team like Real Madrid at barely 21 years old, and after a season and a half, did you expect to have such an important impact?
Yes, I expected this progress, because everything comes with hard work. Along with work, it has always helped me to think of the team and not focus on the individual aspect, although it is true that I’m personally very comfortable with the style of play that Pablo Laso has given me, just like the rest of the team. The best and most important part is that the whole team is getting results with it, and we’re hungry for more. [Note: “esperar” is somewhere between “hope” and “expect”…it didn’t come off quite so cocky in Spanish.]
[After discussing other players in the starting lineup] Furthermore, in your case, you seem destined for really great heights. Titles, selection [Olympics], picked in the NBA draft…
At the moment I’m only focusing on the first part, winning titles with Real Madrid. I don’t think about the selection. I’m very young and surely someday I’ll have the opportunity to play for Spain. I’m in no rush, and now it’s difficult because it is only possible for one nationalized player to be selected and [Serge] Ibaka is a great player. As far as the Chicago Bulls, I follow the team quite a bit, although it is very difficult to see all of the games live. I know the team well, I’ve spoken enough with members of the franchise, in fact they’ve come to see me a couple times, but for now nothing more than that.
With all of this surrounding you, do you think you’ve changed?
I’m still a laid-back kid, who simply likes to be with his family and go out with his girlfriend. I love basketball, but it’s just my job.