While most of the NBA is caught up trying to figure out where LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony will land, one Eastern Conference contender is working behind the scenes to secure the arrival of a less-heralded foreign player. The Bulls are in negotiations to bring in European forward Nikola Mirotic for the upcoming season. Mirotic has reached an agreement to buy out his contract with his club, Real Madrid, at roughly $3.4 million, according to multiple reports.
Chicago can pay as much as $600,000 of the buyout – an amount known as the Excluded International Player Payment – without incurring a cost to its salary cap. The rest would count as a signing bonus. However, this could present complications regarding the size of Mirotic’s salary and the feasibility of fitting him within the mid-level exception, which allows teams to exceed the salary cap to spend a certain amount on players.
The Bulls traded two draft picks and cash to the Timberwolves for Mirotic’s rights as the No. 23 pick in 2011 before opting to "stash" him abroad. An air of mystery has since come to define Mirotic. The Montenegro native has hardly gone unmentioned, as he has been floated in potential trade scenarios involving big-name free-agents. But the discussion has seemed to center more on the idea of Mirotic – some European scoring prodigy with boundless potential – than Mirotic himself. Which begs the question: What kind of player is he, anyway?
Mirotic has developed into one of the best players in Europe, averaging 12.4 points and 4.6 rebounds in the Euroleague last season and earning MVP honors in Liga ACB in Spain in 2013. He is a proficient long-range shooter and a crafty scorer who can face up, penetrate into the lane and finish from close range. Mirotic’s range of skills could make him especially effective in the pick-and-roll game, which would dovetail nicely with Derrick Rose’s return from a right knee injury suffered early last season. More generally, Mirotic would bring scoring to a team that ranked No. 27 in offensive efficiency last season.
Here is a scouting video of Mirotic, courtesy of DraftExpress:
It would be foolish to expect the 6-foot-9, 210-pound Mirotic to blossom into a Dirk Nowitzki-level star right away – or ever, for that matter. He will likely need some time to adjust to the physicality of the NBA, to say nothing of the challenge of picking up coach Tom Thibodeau’s defensive system. If Mirotic does make his NBA debut this season, it all but guarantees the Bulls will cut ties with incumbent power forward Carlos Boozer, who enters 2014 with an expiring contract of $16.8 million.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported last week that Boozer’s departure from Chicago is a “done deal,” with the Bulls set to use the amnesty provision to take his salary off the books (The Bulls have until July 18 to decide whether to amnesty Boozer). Chicago could also unload Boozer’s salary in a sign-and-trade.
If the Bulls come up empty in the Carmelo Anthony sweepstakes, Mirotic could help lessen the blow of their failed pursuit. With Mirotic and first-round pick Doug McDermott surrounding Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and a solid supporting cast, the Bulls’ offense has the potential to be much improved over last season’s moribund unit.