Nikola Mirotic

Central Notes: Mirotic, Jordan, Parker

Not only does the return of Nikola Mirotic give the struggling Bulls an extra offensive weapon,  he provides a calm confidence that the young team can benefit from. Nick Friedell of ESPN writes that Mirotic has set the bar high upon his return, taking particular pleasure in the fact that the 5-20 team is 2-0 since he returned to the court.

Friedell adds that Mirotic has been playing particularly well alongside frontcourt teammate Bobby Portis. Together the pair who’s training camp skirmish made national headlines is rocking a 115.6 offensive rating with a 103.8 defensive rating. The pairing alone has yielded 59 of the Bulls’ 223 points over the last two games and they’ve only been on the floor together for 24 minutes.

The Bulls may be in the midst of a rebuild, not particularly committed to any specific player, but Mirotic has shown plenty of potential when asked to take on a large offensive role. From March 22 on last season, Mirotic averaged 17.0 points and 7.2 rebounds in just under 30 minutes per game.

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • The fact that DeAndre Jordan hired an agent with a close connection to Jason Kidd could give the Bucks an advantage in any trade negotiations with the Clippers, Ken Berger of Bleacher Report writes. Agent Jeff Schwartz represented Kidd for much of his playing career.
  • A big three on Saturday night could help Jae Crowder bust out of his shooting slump, Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com writes. The Cavaliers forward has struggled from long-range, particularly in the fourth quarter, and has ceded some minutes to reserve Jeff Green. “Y’all know I’ve been struggling. It feels good to finally see one go down, especially late in the game,” Crowder said. “I’ve made quite a few of those in my career, but I haven’t made them like I wanted to here. I just want to build off this win.”
  • If Jabari Parker‘s future with the Bucks is uncertain given his health, contract status and the emergence of Giannis Antetokounmpo, one team that could be in play to acquire him is the Jazz. Mike Sorensen of the Deseret News details Parker’s connection to the The Church of Latterday Saints which has famously strong roots in Utah. Parker, it’s worth noting, had BYU in his top five potential colleges coming out of high school.

Bulls Notes: Payne, McDermott, Mirotic, Hoiberg

Doug McDermott‘s return to Chicago tonight as a member of the Knicks gave Bulls fans an unpleasant reminder of the Cameron Payne trade, writes Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times. Payne appeared in just 11 games after being acquired from the Thunder in that five-player deal and hasn’t played at all this season as he recovers from offseason foot surgery.

Coach Fred Hoiberg told reporters tonight that an X-ray on Payne last week showed improvement, but he still isn’t able to run or cut and probably can’t play full-court games for at least six weeks. Cowley suggests it will take Payne at least a couple of weeks to get in shape after that, which pushes his return date back to sometime in mid-February.

“He came at a very difficult time last year with a veteran team, and just had his struggles,” Hoiberg said. “At the same time we’re competing for a playoff spot and it’s a tough time to come in and make an impact. For Cam, the big thing is to stay positive through this stretch, and to get him back and have some positive moments for us when we’re going down the stretch.’’

There’s more tonight from Chicago:

  • McDermott was surprised by the trade that sent him to Oklahoma City at last season’s deadline, tweets K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune. He was in the middle of his most productive season, averaging 10.2 points and 3.0 rebounds per game, when the deal occurred. “It was hard leaving because of all the people I liked here,” he said. “But I wish them the best. It was a great organization to play for.”
  • Now that Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis have put aside hard feelings over their preseason altercation, they should expect to remain teammates for the rest the season, Johnson writes in a mailbag column. The Bulls found a “non-existent” trade market for both players after Mirotic threatened not to return to the team unless Portis was dealt. The Bulls also found no interest in Mirotic when they shopped him prior to last year’s deadline, and no other organization offered him a significant deal as a restricted free agent this summer.
  • Rumors about Hoiberg’s firing have persisted almost from the time he became the Bulls’ head coach, but he is safe for this season, Johnson adds in the same piece. The front office likes how he has handled a collection of young talent, and he has done better with assigning roles and holding players accountable for their performance. Hoiberg has two more seasons left on his contract.

Nikola Mirotic Set To Return For Bulls

After being sidelined for over a month and a half, Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic is set to make his season debut on Friday night against the Hornets, writes Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times. Mirotic had targeted tonight’s game for his return, and head coach Fred Hoiberg confirmed after today’s shootaround that the veteran big man is ready to go.

“Niko will play tonight,” Hoiberg said. “We talked about starting out with him being careful about his minutes. There’s no hard number, per se. We just have to be smart about this as he works his way back into playing shape, especially the back-to-back here in his first stint. So he’ll go out and probably play 15-20 minutes tonight. It could be different depending on the flow of the game, but he’s excited to be back and we’re excited to have him out there.”

It has been an eventful few months for Mirotic, who reached restricted free agency for the first time in July, and had hoped to sign a lucrative new deal. After spending several months on the open market though, the 26-year-old settled for a two-year, $25MM deal with the Bulls. That’s certainly not bad money, but with only the first year’s salary guaranteed, it’s less than what Mirotic had hoped for.

After re-signing with the Bulls, Mirotic appeared poised to open the season as the team’s starting power forward, but an altercation with teammate Bobby Portis prior to opening night hospitalized Mirotic, who was on the receiving end of a Portis punch. The blow resulted in a concussion and multiple facial fractures for Mirotic, as well as an eight-game suspension for Portis.

While Mirotic and Portis appear to have made amends – at least enough to coexist on the court and the bench – it’s still worth keeping an eye on Mirotic’s play over the next several weeks. The sharpshooting power forward becomes eligible to be traded on January 15, and it seems unlikely that he and the Bulls have a long-term future. If he plays well, Mirotic should draw some interest around the NBA prior to the February 8 trade deadline.

Central Notes: Thompson, Wade, Mirotic, LaVine

Along with Derrick Rose‘s reported desire to rejoin the Cavaliers, coach Tyronn Lue will have another lineup decision to make when Tristan Thompson becomes healthy enough to return, writes Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com. Thompson, who moved into the starting lineup after beginning the season as a reserve, has been sidelined since early November with a strained left calf. He hopes to start playing sometime this week, though probably not in the Cavs’ next game, which is tomorrow.

Cleveland was just 1-4 with Thompson as a starter and has been more successful with a smaller lineup featuring Kevin Love at center. With Jae Crowder joining Love, LeBron James, J.R. Smith and Jose Calderon in the starting five, the Cavaliers, who have won 11 in a row, can put five shooters on the floor together. Lue noted Saturday that the team is 15-3 with Love as the starting center, so Thompson may have to adapt to a reserve role.

There’s more this morning from the Central Division:

  • He may be biased, but James is endorsing teammate Dwyane Wade for Sixth Man of the Year, relays Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com. Wade signed with the Cavaliers after agreeing to a buyout with the Bulls shortly before training camp. He was a starter for the first three games, but asked to come off the bench and has excelled as the leader of the second unit, averaging 12.3 points and 4.0 assists in 23.5 minutes in the new role. “Team success is always up there with winning an award, that’s just my personal opinion,” James said. “Then the impact you make on that second lineup, or whatever lineup that you’re in.” 
  • The Bulls will get some much-needed help with the impending return of Nikola Mirotic and Zach LaVine, writes K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune. Mirotic is expected back this week after healing from facial fractures he suffered during a preseason skirmish with teammate Bobby Portis. Mirotic will likely join Portis as part of the second unit. The team is being more cautious with LaVine, who is recovering from a torn ACL. He is expected to start playing in late December or early January. “You can get excited watching him,” said executive VP John Paxson. “He has moments where his athleticism makes you go, ‘Wow, this would really help us on the court.’ But we have to make sure as he comes back that he’s really good to go. And even then we’re going to be cautious with his minutes.”
  • Bulls guard David Nwaba returned Friday, even though he says his sprained right ankle hasn’t fully healed, Johnson relays in a separate story. Nwaba had earned a starting spot before the injury, which sidelined him for nearly all of November. He’ll probably return to a reserve role, especially with LaVine expected back.

Embiid Bonus Could Affect Sixers’ Cap Space

Joel Embiid‘s strong start could lead to a bonus that would affect the Sixers’ ability to compete on the free agent market next summer, writes Bobby Marks of ESPN.

The second-year center signed a five-year extension over the summer that has a base value of $146MM, but could rise as high as $178MM if he reaches certain benchmarks. That includes a hefty bonus if he is named Most Valuable Player or earns first-team All-NBA honors this season. Embiid, who came into tonight averaging 22.9 points and 11.3 rebounds per game, is certainly a candidate to make the All-NBA team at center, especially with the injury to Rudy Gobert and the move of Anthony Davis to power forward.

The bonus would raise Embiid’s cap hit from $25.3MM to $30.3MM for 2018/19 and would cost Philadelphia $5MM in cap space for each subsequent year of the contract. The Sixers have nearly $32MM in projected cap room right now, not counting $1.6MM team options for T.J. McConnell and Richaun Holmes, so $5MM could affect their ability to offer a full max contract.

Emiid’s contract also contains a minutes clause that could boost his future earnings. He can make his contract fully guaranteed starting in 2020/21 or 2021/22 if he plays at least 1,650 minutes in three consecutive years or three out of four starting with this season. He has accumulated 532 minutes in 18 games, putting him on pace to reach that figure for this year.

Marks passes on a few other tidbits related to contract incentives:

  • The punch from Bobby Portis that hospitalized Nikola Mirotic has cost the Bulls forward $1MM in bonuses. Mirotic had four benchmarks valued at $250K each, and although each was unlikely, he needed to play 65 games to be eligible and he has already missed 20.
  • Nets guard Jeremy Lin, who played just one game this season before needing knee surgery, missed a chance to earn several bonuses worth $750K.
  • Nuggets forward Paul Millsap has a $500K incentive for making the All-Star team, which is impossible after wrist surgery that will keep him sidelined until after the February 18 game. Millsap had been an All-Star the past four seasons in the East. He also would receive a $150K bonus for playing 65 games and averaging seven rebounds per 36 minutes, but that’s out of reach because of the injury. He can still get $150K if the Nuggets make the playoffs, but for now his cap hit for next season will be cut from $29.7MM to $29.2MM.
  • Gobert took the biggest hit because of injury, which could cost him up to $2MM. The Jazz center, who is not expected back until the middle of the month because of a bone bruise in his right knee, had a pair of $250K incentives based on 67 games played, along with a $500K bonus for being named first team All-Defense and $1MM for making the All-Star game.
  • Hawks center Dewayne Dedmon needs his scoring and rebounding averages to total more than 16 to collect a $900K bonus. He was at 11.1 PPG and 7.8 RPG before his recent injury.
  • The Trail Blazers could see a smaller luxury tax bill if Maurice Harkless continues to struggle with his three-point shot. Currently shooting 24.3% from distance, Harkless needs to reach 35% at the end of the season to get a $500K bonus. If he falls short, Portland’s tax bill will dip from $4.3MM to $3.5MM.

NBA G League Assignments/Recalls: 11/30/17

Here are the G League moves from around the league today:

Central Notes: Mirotic, LaVine, Wade, Oladipo

Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic admitted to having memory loss after being punched by teammate Bobby Portis, relays Vincent Goodwill of NBC Sports Chicago. Mirotic met with the media today and publicly forgave Portis for the skirmish that left him hospitalized with two facial fractures. He said the organization reached out to him in the wake of the incident, as head coach Fred Hoiberg and assistant Jim Boylen visited him in the hospital and GM Gar Forman made several calls.

“Everybody was worried about me,” Mirotic said. “So I did feel support and I appreciated that from the front office. Now their goal is to make me get back in the game. I’m working on that.”

There’s more tonight from the Central Division:

  • Mirotic and Zach LaVine will get some work in the G League before they take the court for the Bulls, according to K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune. Both players are practicing with the team’s Windy City affiliate while the Bulls are on a road trip. Hoiberg said a late-December return is most likely for LaVine, who is recovering from an ACL tear he suffered last season. “He didn’t do a lot [at Tuesday’s practice],” Hoiberg said of LaVine. “He was really sore, especially in the hamstrings and quads. He’s itching to get back. He’s a competitor. But we have to be really careful about not overloading him.”
  • Business decisions have taken Dwyane Wade to unexpected places over the past two seasons, but he tells Ira Winderman of the Sun-Sentinel that he’s happy to be with the Cavaliers. After 13 years in Miami, Wade signed with the Bulls in 2016, then came to Cleveland this season after to agreeing to a buyout with Chicago just before training camp. “Obviously, you don’t know what’s going to happen from day to day,” Wade said. “This career path we all chose in the NBA, you just don’t know what’s going to happen with it. For me, I’m OK and I’m content with what I’ve done for 13 years. Did I think it was gonna shake out this way? No. But I’m not sitting here crying about it neither.”
  • Victor Oladipo admits to being upset over criticism of the trade that sent him and Domantas Sabonis to the Pacers in exchange for Paul George, relays Yaron Weitzman of Bleacher Report. “Of course it bothers me,” Oladipo said. “But people’s opinions, they are what they are. I can’t control that. All I can control is how hard I work.”

Mirotic Accepts Portis’ Apology, Ready To Move Forward

Bulls power forward Nikola Mirotic confirmed to reporters today that he has accepted Bobby Portis‘ apology for the punch Portis threw last month. However, Mirotic’s follow-up suggested that the relationship still isn’t overly friendly. Asked if he had told Portis he’d accepted his apology, Mirotic responded, “I guess he will know now,” per Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times.

Mirotic’s comments to reporters today represented the first time he has spoken to the media since last month’s altercation. The 26-year-old, who continues to recover from facial injuries suffered as a result of Portis’ punch, declined to discuss the specifics of that incident, telling the media that he wants to focus on the future, writes Madeline Kennedy of The Chicago Sun-Times. That includes working alongside Portis.

“If I’m here, it’s because I want to support the team. He’s a part of the team. I’m going to support him too.” Mirotic said of Portis, according to K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune. “Bobby and me and all the team is doing what we’re supposed to do, being professional. I think so far we’re doing good. We’re in a good way.”

While Mirotic is saying the right things and sounds ready to “be professional” with Portis, I expect he would still be willing to waive his no-trade clause when he becomes eligible to be dealt on January 15. There’s no indication yet that the Bulls are considering a move, but Mirotic’s camp reportedly issued an ultimatum last month, expressing a desire for him to be dealt if Portis remains on the roster. Asked today about that request, Mirotic sidestepped the subject, as Cowley details.

“I just know that right now the only goal – [the] Bulls’ goal and my goal – is to make me get back with the team and practice together and get my strength back and as soon as I can, play with the team,” Mirotic said when he was asked about the reported ultimatum. When a reporter asked if he wants to be traded, Mirotic replied, “I’m really excited to be back. That’s all I can tell. That’s something my agent can tell you.”

Although the situation may not be entirely resolved, Mirotic’s stance is good news for the Bulls — as long as the 6’10” forward isn’t demanding a trade out of Chicago, the Bulls will retain some leverage should they decide to explore a deal.

As for Mirotic’s potential 2017/18 debut, head coach Fred Hoiberg indicated today that it’s not clear yet whether the big man will be back next week, but said the team is hoping he’ll be ready to go after participating in a few more practices (link via Nick Friedell of ESPN).

Central Notes: Bradley, Mirotic, Giannis, Kennard

The Pistons acquired shooting guard Avery Bradley from the Celtics over the summer with the hope of signing him to a long-term agreement and that hasn’t changed, coach Stan Van Gundy told the Detroit News’ Rod Beard and other media members. Bradley, who is making $8.8MM this season, becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer and Van Gundy is optimistic the Pistons can lock him up. “I’ll take our chances in the offseason,” Van Gundy said during a press conference.

However, there will be no in-season negotiations, Van Gundy added. “He knew right from the time we got him that we made the move thinking it would be a long-term thing but he knows it’s not something we’re going to talk to him at all about during the season,” Van Gundy said (Twitter links). The Celtics dealt Bradley to free up salary-cap room for free agent forward Gordon Hayward. Bradley is the Pistons’ second-leading scorer at 16.8 PPG.

In other developments around the Central Division:

  • Bulls power forward Nikola Mirotic participated in practice on Monday and will travel with the team to Denver later this week, Vincent Goodwill of NBCSports.com in Chicago reports. Mirotic practiced with teammates for the first time since Bobby Portis punched him last month, resulting in facial injuries and a concussion. Coach Fred Hoiberg is hopeful Mirotic and Portis can coexist, as he told Goodwill and other media members, even though little to no progress has been made regarding their feud. “It is important to get those guys communicating, which I think we’re all confident will happen,” Hoiberg said. “The important thing is getting Niko back on the floor and with the team.”
  • Bucks All-Star point forward Giannis Antetokounmpo admits that he and assistant coach Sean Sweeney often have verbal altercations but it’s a product of a “tight” relationship, as he explained to Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Antetokounmpo was seen yelling at Sweeney during the Bucks’ game against the Jazz on Saturday. Outsiders shouldn’t read anything into it. “We’re OK, that’s what we do — we fight, we argue, but at the end of the day, we both want to win,” Antetokounmpo told Velazquez. “I don’t think there’s anybody from this team who wants to win more than Sweeney and me and coach (Jason) Kidd, of course.”
  • Pistons rookie swingman Luke Kennard will need to show steady growth defensively to keep his rotation spot, Beard writes in a separate piece. Kennard was considered arguably the best pure shooter in the June draft but his shooting alone won’t guarantee him a spot on the second unit, Van Gundy told Beard and other media members. “He can’t get comfortable and think that he’s got secured minutes,” Van Gundy said. “We’ve flipped that spot over before — and we will again if he’s not going to do what he has to do.”

Feud Between Mirotic, Portis Still Simmering

With Nikola Mirotic getting closer to his return to the court, there has been no progress toward resolving his feud with Bobby Portis, reports Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times.

A preseason altercation between the Bulls teammates left Mirotic hospitalized with two broken facial bones. His recovery has gone well and he was able to increase his activity this week at the team facility.

“Niko had a really good week of workouts,’’ coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s continuing to ramp up his activity. He had good strength workouts and he’s increasing his workload on the floor, so we’re hoping to get him back with the team shortly.’’
Still, Hoiberg isn’t sure when the fourth-year forward might be cleared to start practicing again.
Complicating that process is Mirotic’s resentment toward Portis. His representatives reportedly told the team earlier this month that Portis had to be traded before he would return to the team. If that doesn’t happen, Mirotic would be willing to waive his no-trade clause so that he can be dealt when he becomes eligible in mid-January.
Mirotic’s camp hasn’t pressed that demand since first making it, but it remains in place, according to Cowley.

The Bulls, who don’t see a strong trade market for either player, continue to hope that a truce can be worked out. VP of basketball operations John Paxson has stressed that the priority is what’s best for the organization, and the preference from the front office is that Portis and Mirotic find a way to get through the season so any trade can take place next summer.

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