By Cody Westerlund–
(670 The Score) While the Bulls tenure of forward Nikola Mirotic has already lasted a week longer than some believed it would, indications continue to be that it will end soon.
The Bulls continue to shop Mirotic, who became eligible to be moved on Jan. 15. The Bulls’ desire remains to obtain a first-round pick in any Mirotic trade as the Feb. 8 deadline looms. To date, such an offer hasn’t materialized in a two-team deal, a source said.
At this time, there’s more traction and optimism that a first-round pick could be acquired in a three-team trade, and discussions have taken place on that front. Such a deal can come with more complications but also allow the involved teams to better match up in their desired assets and goals. The Bulls’ flexibility can serve them well in that regard, as they’re well below the salary cap and have an open roster spot to help facilitate a Mirotic trade.
The Jazz emerged as a Mirotic suitor about two weeks ago but haven’t been willing to give up a first-round pick yet in a straight-up swap with the Bulls. In trade discussions, Jazz wing Rodney Hood’s name has also surfaced, a source confirmed. He’s averaging 16.7 points on 41.3 percent shooting, primarily coming off the bench. Utah is believed to view him as expendable after the emergence of rookie guard Donovan Mitchell.
The Bulls did thorough scouting work on Hood leading up to the 2014 draft before they traded a pair of first-round picks and a second-rounder to move up and select Doug McDermott at No. 11 overall. That was a trade that backfired, with the Bulls only having the little-used, injured and erratic Cameron Payne left to show for it after they traded McDermott to the Thunder in a five-player deal last February.
While inquiring about Hood, the Bulls’ primary focus has still been on obtaining a first-round pick. Hood will be a restricted free agent this summer, when the Bulls will have to give Zach LaVine a hefty payday.
Mirotic, 26, missed the first 23 games of the season after suffering two facial fractures and a concussion when teammate Bobby Portis punched him in a training camp fight on Oct. 17, two days before the start of the regular season. In the ensuing weeks, Mirotic’s camp informed the Bulls that he wanted a separation from Portis, according to reports. Mirotic holds a no-trade clause, but he loses that right if the Bulls exercise the $12.5-million team option they hold in 2018-’19 on him, the Tribune has reported.
Bulls executive vice president of John Paxson responded by publicly stating the team wouldn’t be held hostage by any player’s demands and that the Bulls would do what’s best for the organization. That provides context for why the Bulls continue to pursue a first-round pick for Mirotic and not settle for a lesser asset.
The Pistons have previously inquired about Mirotic, and other teams with bigger postseason aspirations have also called about him, a source said. From the rebuilding Bulls’ perspective, enough interest has been expressed in Mirotic that they remain confident that holding out for a desired asset is the right course of action, even as Mirotic’s quality play — he’s posting career-best marks of 17.1 points, 6.7 rebounds and 43.9 percent 3-point shooting — has helped them amass more wins and hurt their lottery odds in a loaded upcoming draft.
The Bulls are 15-9 with Mirotic healthy and 3-20 without him. At 18-29, the Bulls have the league’s ninth-worst record but are only four games away from the worst mark.
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for 670TheScore.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.