What can we glean from Nikola Mirotic interviews?

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.”

MARCA interview:

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.


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  • Nothing?

  • So basically to sum it up, the question isnt when he comes but if he even wats to.

    Franz Vazquez anyone?

  • In reply to 1096ballenf:

    I brought this up on the first Mirotic article.

    If my memory serves me correct, Vasquez was already a star name overseas, which allowed him to make more money than he were to get if he came over to the NBA as the 11th pick.

    My guess is, if he was selected 1-5, that would have been more money than what he could make overseas, and he would have been here already.

    So this is how this applies to Mirotic. Being the 23rd pick in the draft, his rookie scale contract is something like 5yrs $5mil total. He's probably making $3-5mil right now, and after his contract is up, he can sign a big contract more than $5mil per year.

    How are the Bulls going to entice Mirotic to come over with...5yrs for a total of $5mil? They can't.

  • Yeesh. There was all the same talk about Ricky Rubio. And that concern was warranted since he was a 5th overall pick. And he wasn't happy about being drafted by Minnesota. And he had an 8 million dollar buyout. Well once his agent understood that he couldn't negate the draft rights and join the Knicks, they renegotiated down the buyout. Then the T'Wolves paid the $500k which they are allowed to cover. And then they "worked to find local endorsements" to cover the remainder. In other words, the team paid some local companies to sign deals that would pay the remainder. Rubio missed two years, which was likely the preferred time frame all along. When the Bulls really want Mirotic, they will be able to bring him over. No doubt that will be after Boozer's salary has run its course.

  • In reply to sfpaper:

    Rubio was a different case.

    1) He didn't want to go to MINN and told MINN not to draft him because he wasn't going there. They drafted him, so he backed out of the 'buyout' MINN had arranged.

    After the draft, he signed a 6yr deal with his Spanish team, I'm guessing because he was hoping they would trade him. They didn't, so he finally gave up and came over 2 years later.

    Mirotic signed his contract first and then entered the draft. Maybe if he was drafted 5th (and making 5th money) he would have came over right away or by now. But because he wasn't, he's staying overseas.

    2) Rubio wasn't considered a 'star' and was still just a young player...meaning, the money he was making overseas was comparable to the money he was going to make in the NBA (Because he was drafted 5th vs Mirotic being drafted 23rd).

    3) So those are the differences between Rubio and Mirotic. Rubio wanted to play in the NBA, but wanted a big city like NY. Being drafted 5th with that money made it easier to want to come over.

    Mirotic is not making the same money Rubio is making, and in fact, he's making more overseas than if he were to come over to the NBA.

    I never thought Mirotic was going to come over until he had 1 year left in his contract, in 2015...but from the look of things, he might not even come over at all.

  • This is a joke and Bulls fans keep dreaming of this guy? It will be a long dream for lot of people... 4 years long, what a waste of time for a team that has concerns now.

  • In reply to Reese1:

    I do find it funny Bulls fans are hanging onto hope this guy is coming over in the next year to be our 'savior'.

    But this pick wasn't a 'waste'. Other than Marshon Brooks, nobody else was really a player, especially if they were on the Bulls.

    At the time, the Bulls felt they were title contenders with the roster they had, so they didn't want to pay a draftee guaranteed money and take a spot away from another player who contributed that year. That's why they selected Mirotic...specifically to stash him away overseas.

  • In reply to YouBlewwIt:

    I dont think it was a wasted pick, its just a waste of time talking about a guy that wont be here for another 4 years I mean my god... this Bulls team has problems now but the Bulls management has fans thinking 4 years into the future. So that means 4 more years of bowing down to Miami. I just wouldnt want to keep losing to those guys if I were a part of the Bulls organization. I guess thats why some of these millionaires that own these NBA teams really dont care about winning, they just care about making the money. Teams Like Miami and the Lakers do care about winning, thats the difference between Bulls teams and other teams and their owners that really do care about winning championships.

  • Here is why I think Mirotic stays in Spain for the foreseeable future...

    1) The money. $5mil per year in Spain vs. $1mil per in the NBA (rookie scale contract...can't be negotiated).

    2) He's already a star there vs. Being a nobody here, probably not getting minutes, respect, being yelled at by Thibs, etc.

    3) European lifestyle vs. Foreign Country with completely different culture, foods, environment, etc.

    4) Spanish Women...nuff said.

    Actually, I'll give you a great example: Kyle Singler (of Duke) was drafted by the Pistons, went to Spain to play during the lockout...he never came back. Why? Money was the same. He's from America. He's a nobody over there as well.

    Only one thing left...Spanish Women.

    P.S. "[Soccer portion omitted because no one cares.]" ... "[Translation: Chicago is screwed.]" ... LOL

  • In reply to YouBlewwIt:

    "1) The money. $5mil per year in Spain vs. $1mil per in the NBA (rookie scale contract...can't be negotiated)."

    OK, what am I missing here? Why could Rubio get a deal worked out to come over to the NBA, but a guy like Mirotic, who is more valuable on the court, could not? If that is the NBA business model, no wonder half of the teams were under water financially! That is simply lunacy.

    "2) He's already a star there vs. Being a nobody here, probably not getting minutes, respect, being yelled at by Thibs, etc."

    You have got to be kidding. This guy is not Asik. He scores from all over the court, and he's getting better! He's going to be a nobody in the NBA? Begging for minutes? Don't coaches in Europe yell? Plus Thibs is hoarse, you can hardly hear him anyway.

    3) I've been to Europe, and I thought Spain and Italy were both nice countries. I could live there. But are the cultures and lifestyles better? I did not think so, but you might well be right on this one. We like what we like.

    On the other hand, the NBA is the premier BB league in the world. If you want to test yourself against the best, you come to the NBA.

  • In reply to rustyw:

    Rubio played on Joventut Badalona (Barcelona) in Spain's junior league (when he was drafted). He was selected fifth.
    Mirotic plays in the full fledged professional league.
    At the time each was drafted,
    -Rubio could make a lot more money in the NBA than Mirotic (drafted 5 instead of 23)
    -Mirotic was making more money playing professionally in Spain than Rubio.

  • In reply to YouBlewwIt:

    First you get the money, then you get the paella, then you get the women!

    +1 on the Spanish women. Snuck one home in my suitcase and we're still happily married.

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