By Eduardo Monk Jr.
The Chicago Bulls, for all intents and purposes, have greatly exceeded the expectations set by both fans and analysts alike. While the Bulls are still far from playoff contention, buried by an awful 3-20 start to the season, watching them tussle to a respectable 15-12 since December 8th has been a breath of fresh air. Yeah, the win-loss ratio is a disaster and this season marks the first time since 2008 that the Bulls haven’t sent a player to the All-Star game but more importantly, this season shows they have a sense of direction.
Chicago hasn’t been championship caliber since Derrick Rose’s MVP year in 2012 and ever since the borderline career ending injuries for Rose, the Bulls truly had no idea what they wanted. At times, it felt like they were moving on from the Rose era and started to tear down but then they would go all-in and acquire any big name they could get their hands on.
They banished themselves to the wretched no man’s land, dysfunction and chaos dominated this franchise for years. The eighth seed constituted as a smashing success in the front office and it showed in many of the moves GarPax made. The Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo signings were band-aids to keep the sinking Titanic afloat and the trade-up for Doug McDermott was an ill-advised selection trying to stall for the probably already closed championship window for as long as they could.
But after an offseason with a clear goal in mind trading away Butler, watching the losses pile up with no complaints and no desperation moves is actually a relief. For a season to A.have no drama and B.promise hope for the future doesn’t even feel like a traditional Bulls season but it’s exactly what we get to enjoy this year. There’s no more confusion. There’s no more speculating. The Bulls are tanking and are going for as high of a pick as possible. Which, though tough to watch at times, is exactly what they should be doing.
With another loaded draft on the horizon and a lot of bright spots popping up this year, ranging from the first round selection Lauri Markkanen to the Timberwolves twins in Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine, the future is bright with the right draft and free agency decisions. With this, every single young player performing well should be completely off-limits.
And yes, this includes Nikola Mirotic.
I get it, Mirotic has been one of the hottest players on the trade market for the past month with heavy ties to the Utah Jazz. A lot of people want to see him traded. Names like Rodney Hood, Ricky Rubio, and Derrick Favors have all been thrown around as potential incentives for moving on from the fourth year Spaniard. Considering his blazing hot start to his season coming off a facial fracture and still riding a strong 16.8 point, 6.4 rebound and 43% from three campaign, it’s no surprise fringe playoff contenders or championship hopefuls would kill to get their hands on a young player of his caliber.
However, as possibly enticing as Favors or Rubio in a Bulls jersey would seem, Mirotic should be completely untouchable unless approached with highway robbery. He is simply too imperative to the Bulls success, now and in the future, to move on from for a middling center or a pass-heavy point guard. The Bulls are an above .500 team with him on the court and his ridiculous offseason improvements are wildly encouraging for a team molding themselves for the NBA of the future.
Originally intending to bring on head coach Fred Hoiberg for this reason, the Bulls are shifting their focuses from a hard-nosed, defensive style of basketball to the fireworks that teams are beginning to adopt league-wide. And coupled with the incredible rise of the three-point shot, Mirotic is going to be a total asset on a championship team one day. With the current rebuild in process and the number of pleasant surprises already, the Bulls have put themselves in a wonderful position for the Larry O’Brien trophy in 2024.
Mirotic has to be apart of this. He may already be hitting the ramp of his prime deep into the Bulls rebuild but his skill set of an efficient stretch forward is not worth moving on from. This season finally shows where the sails point and it’s directly aimed at the future. One or two more offseasons of heavy improvement and the Bulls have a borderline All-Star (in the East at least) in their midst on a hopefully rising team.
Don’t rush this, GarPax. Let the rebuild happen. Let Mirotic play a part in this. While things seem bleak right now, white knuckle it this year and the next without making hasty moves and it will pay off. Don’t push things and the good tidings will come. But whatever you do, just don’t pull the trigger on Niko.