In the world of NBA trades, having a month remaining before the annual deadline is seen as quite a long time, as teams often wait until as close to the end as possible to put forth their best proposals.
So given that Monday marked one month until the Feb. 8 deadline, it’s a bit interesting that multiple reports over the last few days have indicated that the Utah Jazz are in rather hot pursuit of Chicago Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic, but there are a number of factors to consider before both Jazz and Bulls management decide a deal is something they really want to do.
Let’s start by looking at a possible deal involving Mirotic from Utah’s perspective. The 6-foot-10, 240-pound Mirotic is 26 years old but is in just his fourth season in the NBA, as he remained in Spain for a time after getting selected in the 2013 draft.
First and foremost, he has a reputation of being a good 3-point shooter, but is that really the case? For his career, he has made just over 36 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc, which is decent but not outstanding. In 17 games this season, however (he missed a bunch of time after an altercation with teammate Bobby Portis resulted in multiple facial fractures), he has made 46 percent of his shots from downtown, which is tremendous.
Chances are that over a long period of time, his 3-point percentage will come back down to earth a fair bit, but just how much? Would it be worth it for the Jazz to acquire a player whose game is centered around his ability to shoot but who hasn’t proven to be a knockdown shooter?
One thing the acquisition of Mirotic would do is signal that Utah is officially done trying to pair two bigs in Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert. Management has said for years that it could work, and those two are good enough that the Jazz have been successful when they’ve shared the court, but this season has been a clear indicator that head coach Quin Snyder wants to move away from pairing them, as he’s all but staggered their playing time when they’ve both been healthy.
In Mirotic, Utah would get a player who can space the floor, which would open things up for, presumably, Gobert (more on Favors later) in the paint. Even if Mirotic isn’t a knockdown shooter, his presence on the floor and reputation would cause defenses to spread out more than they do when Favors and Gobert are in together.
While Mirotic is most known as a shooter, he is perhaps better in other areas than he gets credit for. For his career, he is averaging 5.4 rebounds per game (exactly seven per contest this season, but again, it’s probably best to look at a bigger sample size), and he has the ability to play decent defense in a team setting.
In other words, replacing the bigger, more defensive and rebounding-minded Favors with the more perimeter-oriented Mirotic in the lineup would be a dramatic philosophical shift for the Jazz, but again, this season has shown it’s one they want to make.
In addition to the different type of play Mirotic would bring to the power forward position, Utah will surely want to do its due diligence on him. Multiple reports have indicated that he wants to play for Snyder, but surely the organization will look into his character to ensure there are no red flags, as some reports indicated he may have been largely responsible for the scuffle with Portis.
So now, what about the Bulls? Mirotic has been thought to be on the trading block for quite some time, but the direction the franchise is heading will likely dictate what they want to get back for him. Although Chicago has gone 11-5 since he returned from the facial injuries, they’re still 7.5 games out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, meaning they ought to be looking to stay bad this season.
Multiple reports have indicated the Bulls want a first-round draft pick as at least part of the deal for Mirotic, as well as an expiring contract if they can get it. Favors, Joe Johnson and Raul Neto’s contracts will expire after this season, while Dante Exum and Rodney Hood will be restricted free agents and Thabo Sefolosha, Jonas Jerebko, Ekpe Udoh and Royce O’Neale all have non-guaranteed deals for next season.
Mirotic is slated to make $12.5 million this year and next (more on that later). Favors’ deal is at $12 million this season, so a straight up exchange for those two would be the easiest to execute as far as financials go.
What the Jazz may not be as ready to give up over an expiring deal is a first-round pick, as they don’t hold any beside their own, and giving a potential lottery pick either for 2018 or in the near future for a player of Mirotic’s caliber probably wouldn’t be the wisest move by Utah management.
The Jazz could give a heavily protected pick, even such that it would turn into two second-round picks if not conveyed within a certain number of years, but Chicago would probably want more guarantee of a decent first-rounder than that.
The two sides could resort to involving a third team. If a certain squad was high on Alec Burks, Utah could send him to that team, the Bulls would send Mirotic to the Jazz and the third team would send an expiring contract and/or a better first-round pick to the Bulls. Given where they’re at in their team-building process, Chicago could be willing to take on a bad contract another team wants to get rid of as a price for also getting that team’s first-round pick.
This is where Mirotic’s contract gets interesting. He was a restricted free agent last summer but never got an offer sheet from another team, but the Bulls didn’t want to pay him as much as he was asking either. Ultimately he re-signed with Chicago on a two-year, $27 million deal, but with a few catches.
First, the second season is a team option, which gives the team acquiring Mirotic some flexibility moving forward. The second catch is unique, as he has the right to veto any trade (he can’t be traded at all until Jan. 15), which could put him and the Bulls in another dispute.
On one hand, Mirotic can control where he goes, but on the other hand, Chicago could decide to not deal him despite its desire to do so if they don’t like what a team Mirotic wants to go to is offering.
An item that could become important is the fact that, because Mirotic’s deal is really only guaranteed for this season but has the team option for Year 2, the Bulls could conceivably exercise the team option before trading him, which would cancel out his ability to veto a deal. Teams might be unwilling to trade for Mirotic with this flexibility gone, but it would give Chicago more flexibility to move him wherever they can find a deal, and they’re certainly motivated to do so.
As it stands now, reports on Tuesday indicated that the Detroit Pistons and Portland Trail Blazers have also expressed interest in trading for Mirotic. The Jazz certainly would have good reason to deal for him, but can they get something done?
We’ll find out in just over four weeks, at the very latest.