Not that they were ever going to buy, but the Bulls took the next step in their rebuilding phase when they reportedly dealt Nikola Mirotic and a second-round pick to the Pelicans on Thursday.
In exchange they received a first-round pick, a future second rounder, Omer Asik, Tony Allen and Jameer Nelson. The ramifications of the deal aren't league-altering, but they are significant for a Bulls team that just added another asset to what will be an important offseason.
Beginning with the first-round pick, the Pelicans currently sit at 27-23, seventh in the Western Conference and two games clear of the Lottery. Of course, they obtained that record in large part due to DeMarcus Cousins, who suffered a ruptured Achilles' tendon last week - the reason the Pelicans dealt for Mirotic. They've lost two straight since Cousins' injury, and there's no assurance Mirotic will keep them in the playoff hunt. It would certainly help if the Pelicans were able to sign Greg Monroe, who was bought out by Phoenix on Wednesday.
As it stands the Pelicans are slotted to pick No. 17 in the 2018 NBA Draft. With that pick going to Chicago, it's almost a certainty the Bulls will pick somewhere in the 14-20 range in addition to their own first-round selection. This either gives the Bulls a second young player to add to the rotation, or the ability to combine both first-round picks and move into the top of the draft. Then again, the Bulls have lost five straight, will be worst in the short-term without Mirotic and are just three games behind the league-worst Hawks. Should the Bulls deal veterans like Justin Holiday or Robin Lopez to pick up more future assets, there's no reason the Bulls couldn't find themselves in the top-3 on lottery night.
Asik will admittedly be a strain on the Bulls' salary cap, as he's set to make $10.6 million this year, $11.3 million next season and can be bought out in 2019 for $3 million. In case you were wondering, he will be bought out in 2019 for $3 million if he isn't dealt to a team looking to free up future cap space before then.
But that's the cost of a first-round pick these days, and the Bulls don't exactly need the cap space to go out and acquire veteran talent at this stage in the rebuild. Yes, they're ahead of schedule. No, Paul George isn't signing with the Bulls. So while Asik's ugly contract will be on the books the next two seasons, it really doesn't make a difference for the Bulls. Allen will reportedly be bought out, and outside of Nwaba having a mentor it doesn't mean much. Nelson reportedly won't be bought out initially, and could give the Bulls some point guard depth while Kris Dunn works back from his concussion.
As far as X's and O's go, there's also the opportunity for Fred Hoiberg and the Bulls to get an extended look at Bobby Portis. Yes, it seems comical that they still need evaluation time on a player who has appeared in 168 career games, but he's not unlike Taj Gibson in that he's played behind others during his short career. He's only started 17 games, and despite Lauri Markkanen playing like a Rookie of the Year and Nikola Mirotic being among the league leaders in 3-point shooting, Portis hasn't been half bad himself.
In 42 games he's averaging 12.1 points on 48 percent shooting in just 20.5 minutes. And since the Bulls' infamous 3-20 start, Portis has upped those averages to 12.2 points on 49 percent shooting, along with 5.9 rebounds in just 19.6 minutes. He has the Bulls' second best net rating (behind only David Nwaba) and is far and away the Bulls' most efficient rebounder.
Portis was squarely behind Markkanen and Mirotic, and for good reason, but an extended look will give the Bulls some information as to whether they need to address the power forward position in the offseason behind Markkanen and Portis. Portis has only played 129 minutes next to Markkanen - fewer than the 372 he played next to Mirotic - and the numbers are ugly, but perhaps they form more chemistry as the year goes on. The Bulls picked up Portis' fourth-year option days after the incident with Mirotic in October, so clearly they see something in him.
There will also be more shots to go around on the second unit. Mirotic was good, but he was also rather shot-happy. His 17.5 field goal attempts per-36 minutes were on par with Carmelo Anthony, DeMarcus Cousins and Isaiah Thomas. That second unit now gets 12 additional shots per game, with Portis, Denzel Valentine and perhaps even Cristiano Felicio benefiting the most.
Put it all together and this was the perfect deal for a tanking Bulls team. The eight straight wins were fun, and the talk of playoffs - while short-sighted - made the games enjoyable. With Mirotic heading to New Orleans, the focus now shifts to making as many deals as possible to obtain future assets. Player development also takes center stage