Nikola Mirotic is now able to be traded, and with just three weeks left until the February 8th deadline his days as a Bull are likely numbered.
Rumors about Mirotic have been swirling for a while now, but only a few teams have been mentioned as serious suitors.
According to NBCSports Chicago and the Chicago Tribune, three different teams have inquired about Mirotic’s services, including the Portland Trail Blazers:
Can confirm Pistons have shown preliminary interest in Mirotic, per source. @TheSteinLine 1st. Also told Portland could join mix with Jazz and Pistons. Bulls motivated to get 1st round pick for Niko.
— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) January 9, 2018
If the Bulls are indeed set on getting a first round pick, Portland might be the most likely of the three teams that have engaged in talks with the Bulls to cough up their pick. Utah is slipping into the lottery, Detroit is hanging on to postseason positioning by a thread, but Portland, with the addition of Mirotic, could end up finishing 5th or 6th in the West. Getting back a first rounder that should fall somewhere between the 20th and 22nd overall pick seems to be about as good a return the Bulls can get for Mirotic straight up.
However, if talks drag out and the Bulls are unable to acquire the 1st round pick that they desire, the Blazers have a couple players on their roster that are cheaper, younger and under contract longer than Mirotic is. Perhaps some sort of combination of Maurice Harkless, Zach Collins and Caleb Swanigan would interest the Bulls?
Collins and Swanigan are rookies that are struggling to get on the floor in Portland. Both of them were 2017 first round picks, with Collins being selected 10th overall and Swanigan selected 26th, and both are just 20 years old. If you can’t net a first round pick in return for Mirotic, isn’t a 20 year old player less than a year removed from being a first round pick the next best thing?
Swanigan has some red flags in his game, as he was highly touted as a rebounder, perimeter shooter and interior finisher, but his lack of athleticism raises serious questions about his ability to rebound or score at the NBA level. His slow release is also causing him problems, he’s currently shooting just 20% from three. If the Bulls are going to make a deal with Portland, they should set their sights on Collins.
Collins has the profile of a legitimate rim protector with the ability to score in the post. Standing at 7 feet tall, he blocked almost two shots per game and shot over 65% from the floor in college. The Bulls are lacking a rim protector of the future, and with them winning too many games to be a player in the Deandre Ayton sweepstakes, trading for a player like Collins makes a lot of sense.
While Portland had a $12.9 million trade exception they could use on Mirotic this season, they are already a couple million over the luxury tax and could prefer to send back some salary to the Bulls. The’d likely try to shed Chicago native Evan Turner’s contract, but the Bulls have no interest in taking on 2.5 years of a guard making more than $17 million a year who can’t shoot and is likely already on the downswing of his career. Hard pass.
Maurice Harkless on the other hand would be worth looking into. Harkless, owed around $21 million over the next two seasons, is a 24 year old small forward with excellent length at 6’9 and a promising shooting stroke. He shot over 35% from three and posted a 55.8 eFG% last year, but has taken a step back in both categories this season. He could be a nice, affordable bench piece over the next couple of years for the Bulls.
The fanbase would likely be disappointed as a whole if the Bulls failed to receive draft pick compensation for Mirotic, and the Bulls themselves have stated they are determined to get a first rounder for him, but if the Bulls sent Mirotic to Portland and received Collins and Harkless (plus an expiring contract to get the Blazers under the luxury tax) in return, you can count on this Bulls fan being excited.