Bulls Still Intend To Retain Nikola Mirotic, While Rajon Rondo’s Future Is Uncertain

By Cody Westerlund–

(CBS) It took less than an hour after news broke of the Bulls’ blockbuster trade of star wing Jimmy Butler to the Timberwolves on Thursday evening during the NBA Draft, a move that marked the start of an organizational rebuild, to be reminded that there’s fallout to come.

On his social media accounts, starting Bulls center Robin Lopez posted a photo of him riding a horse, giving a hat tip to no one in particular. It was seemingly a nod of appreciation to Butler.

There was no sunset, but there could’ve been. For the veteran Lopez is the type of player who figures to serve as a trade chip as the Bulls transition from a win-now mode to building for the future.

Beyond the future of Lopez — who has two years left on his contract — the addition of of 20-year-old Arizona power forward Lauri Markkanen with the No. 7 overall pick the Bulls acquired from the Wolves brought into question the future of 26-year-old power forward Nikola Mirotic, who’s set to be a restricted free agent on July 1.

Mirotic’s three-year tenure in Chicago has been marked by inconsistencies, and he would seemingly be redundant with Markkanen as a stretch-four — if not right away, at some point down the line. Nevertheless, if the price is reasonable and fair, the Bulls want to retain Mirotic.

“Niko is a restricted free agent we intend to bring back,” Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said late Thursday.

The more suspenseful question in the Bulls’ rebuild now is whether they’ll bring back veteran point guard Rajon Rondo, whose $13.4 million salary for 2017-’18 becomes guaranteed after next Friday. If the Bulls want, they can waive him before then and pay him his $3 million guaranteed, which would open up more cap space.

It would be most logical for the Bulls to open up more playing time for Kris Dunn, acquired in the blockbuster deal Thursday, and the bevy of other point guards on their roster by parting ways with Rondo. Because of his contract situation, he could be a trade chip that opens up space for another team too.

Of course, the Bulls previously praised Rondo for being a mentor for and protector of young players last season, and they made no commitment Thursday night.

“We’ve got to get together and start planning for July 1 and then we’ll answer that,” general manager Gar Forman said of Rondo’s future in Chicago. “We do have some roster spots still to look at and make a decision on. So we’ll take a look at that and make a decision by the time we have to on June 30. I don’t think we’ve made a decision at this point.”

One player who wasn’t much affected by Thursday’s dramatic turn of events was veteran Bulls wing Dwyane Wade — other than losing a good friend in Butler — who several days ago informed the team he’ll exercise his $23.8 million player option for 2017-’18.

“As we’ve studied teams that have rebuilt, you do need some veteran presence in the locker room,” Paxson said. “Dwyane is a pro, he’s seen a lot. We have yet to talk to him, but we will. We’ll explain everything to him and talk to him about it. He had the right to opt in to the contract, which he did.

“I do believe young guys still need examples of professionalism.”

Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for CBSChicago.com and covers the Bulls. He’s also the co-host of the @LockedOnBulls podcast, which you can subscribe to on iTunes and Stitcher. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.

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