By Tim Baffoe–
(670 The Score) I’m fairly certain of two things when it comes to Chicago Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic. One is that he’s a fan of my writing.
“Sometimes I don’t read too much that you guys write,” he said over the weekend of we filthy scribes. “But sometimes when I’m bored a little bit, I’ll be like, ‘OK, let’s see what they’re writing.’ I’m just enjoying your articles, guys, and it’s been fun to me, so I said it was funny to me. I said that I’m in love with Chicago’s media.”
Niko, thanks. What else I’m confident in is that Mirotic would be just dandy getting shipped to another team now that he’s officially eligible to be traded, per his contract.
Sure, Mirotic is trying his best to play politician and not really give an answer that would show his feelings about the Bulls undeniably taking calls on him as they look to add draft picks in a rebuild. It’s a rebuild that’s showing surprising promise, too, with the emergence of Kris Dunn and return from injury of Zach LaVine, both acquired from the Minnesota Timberwolves for Jimmy Butler in the offseason along with rookie Lauri Markkanen, who has more than justified his stature as the seventh overall pick.
“I didn’t talk to (management),” Mirotic said Monday regarding any buzz. “Probably my agents are talking. I know my name is going to be there. I’m doing my job. I’m sure they’re doing their job. We’re both going to do what’s best for the team.
“This is motivation for me. I know it sounds weird. But people are talking, ‘Niko will be gone. Bye-bye, Niko.’ For me, it’s just do what you’ve got to do. Play well.”
Playing well — which he’s done since returning Dec. 8 from injuries sustained in a fight with teammate Bobby Portis in practice — only makes it more likely that Mirotic can be moved. He was seemingly unwanted in the free agent market and re-signed with the Bulls just before the start of training camp as the two parties kind of shrugged at being each other’s only option. If it was possible to have negative value to any other team, the fight and broken face and general sourness afterward made that so.
But Mirotic has shown obvious value on the court and has had periods of putting a young team on his shoulders in winning games the Bulls aren’t supposed to. A disaster of a soap opera for executives John Paxson and Gar Forman now seems destined to be a footnote that can be laughed about down the line, especially if Mirotic turns into a first-round draft pick.
And he’s more than fine with that. Most athletes who haven’t outright demanded a trade — which Mirotic hasn’t since returning to the court — at least pay lip service to the gods of boring public relations and talk in platitudes about how great these fans are and the player couldn’t imagine playing anywhere else (while he’s waiting on that text message back about apartments in a new town). Mirotic isn’t crapping on Chicago or the Bulls, but he’s not professing much attachment to either.
“I want to win tonight,” he said on Saturday when asked if he wants to stay here. “That’s all I want to do. Like I said before, from tomorrow, we’ll see. But I’m happy in Chicago. I’m obviously very happy. And my family too, we all love Chicago. We’re more than thankful for the opportunity to be here. That’s all I can tell you now.”
The man doesn’t even have gumption anymore to lie. You can’t really fault him — and it’s even oddly respectable that he’s trying to walk a line that’s neither pandering nor unprofessional. He knows he was never in any long-term plans for the Bulls anyway, and having to hang around in the shadow of being the guy on the wrong end of a team brawl can’t be enjoyable no matter how well you’re playing. The hatchet between him and Portis will never be buried far enough underground, no matter how much they high five on the court.
“I am all positive, all love, sharing the love,” Mirotic said Monday after the Bulls beat the Heat. “I was happy coming here to the locker room, having another opportunity to play well. I love playing in the United Center, the best thing you can do.”
Mirotic has a no-trade clause, by the way. At no point this season has he ever indicated he’d use it. That didn’t stop him from claiming Monday that the Bulls would be a playoff team if healthy for the entire season.
Problem with that is the outside chance of that happening are contingent on Mirotic and the also-likely-traded-eventually Robin Lopez. A playoff declaration is still very 2018 Niko, though. Throwing a random piece of meat to the media and seeing how it gets chewed in print tomorrow to his own newfound amusement.
Should Mirotic be traded, which may only happen if the Bulls can get a first-round pick in return, the feeling won’t be what we expected back when we looked toward mid-January months ago. At that time, it was crossing fingers that anything could be received for a player who was understandably disgruntled and might only infect younger guys with negative vibes or at least make media scrums all the more awkward for them.
Instead, Mirotic should garner a pretty decent return (OK, still cross your fingers with this front office’s spotty record), but there will also be a “Good for him” feel to it. Mirotic has played well, not poisoned the locker room from what most can tell and been a dry but unexpectedly refreshing presence with the media these past five weeks.
He’s earned his clean slate when it comes. That will probably be sooner than later.
I just hope he still reads my stuff from afar.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for 670TheScore.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not Entercom or our affiliated radio stations.