Taj Gibson

More muscle, more money, more confidence: Nikola Mirotic ready to show consistency for Bulls

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More muscle, more money, more confidence: Nikola Mirotic ready to show consistency for Bulls

Nikola Mirotic didn’t exactly lumber over to the media after the Bulls’ first practice, as a new man armed with a two-year, $27 million deal and 22 pounds worth of additional weight from the summer, the first time in which he didn’t play overseas.

He claimed there were no hard feelings from the summerlong impasse with the Bulls, where his restricted free-agent status prevented him from truly getting to the market, and his career inconsistencies also made it tough for the Bulls to give him an extended contract.

“I knew it was going to happen because with me it’s like every time is the last second. I don’t know why,” Mirotic said. “They made me an offer at the beginning of free agency, so I didn’t take that deal.”

So while his saga dragged along after he couldn’t find suitors, he stayed in Chicago for the most part, adding the bulk—although some would say it was stress weight considering it’s believed Mirotic wanted a deal in the $16-17 million range annually.

“Some people thought I was worried with my contract. No, I was very calm, working here until the middle of August,” Mirotic said. “My weight is feeling great and I’m very excited. I’m looking forward to this season, you know.”

“I’m feeling good. I’ve never felt that strong in my legs, feeling better with the rebounding, and I worked all summer in the low post, especially when I play that pick-and-roll and they switch me, so I need to be available to play in the low post against small guys. I was really working on getting stronger down there so I can finish.”

Coming to Chicago with plenty of fanfare, Mirotic has shown flashes but never the consistency many expected. Slow starts were accompanied by strong finishes after the All-Star break and the cycle of “if Niko can get it right” started all over again—only leading to more frustration when expectations weren’t met.

“I know that you guys (media) are very disappointed. I saw that the last two, three years, those reactions to that,” Mirotic said. “It is what it is. I came back just thinking about what happened. I knew what happened. I worked on all my weaknesses this summer. It’s time to change some things. I’m in a place where I can improve and get better.”

This time last year, the Bulls did everything they could to make Mirotic seize the power forward spot in training camp. Too bad Taj Gibson wasn’t notified and outworked everybody to join the first five.

But Gibson was traded in midseason, Jimmy Butler was traded and Dwyane Wade was bought out Sunday night, leaving Mirotic as somewhat an elder statesman on a team that doesn’t carry any playoff expectations for the season.

Now he’ll have to battle rookie Lauri Markkanen and third-year forward Bobby Portis for minutes at power forward, since it doesn’t appear he’ll play any small forward after playing there sparingly his first two seasons.

One can see Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg playing Mirotic and Markkanen together at center and power forward to have two floor-stretchers—although defense and rebounding will be a concern in the pairing.

“Everything's open right now. Lauri obviously had a great summer,” Hoiberg said. “He's got to work himself back into great shape right now. Basically since the European championships have been over, he's taken time off to recover and regroup and recharge his batteries.

“Bobby Portis has had a great summer. He's been around pretty much every day since the summer league.”

Mirotic said he was notified by management in the exit meetings the team would look different, but didn’t foresee Butler being traded on draft night. Now as long as he stays healthy, he’ll be a primary option on offense and until Zach LaVine makes his Chicago debut—which likely won’t take place until mid-December—he’ll have plenty of time to display his versatility in Hoiberg’s free-flowing system.

“It’s great, especially knowing how Fred wants to play this year,” Mirotic said. “They’re going to play fast, there’s no more like holding the ball, playing isolation. Now it’s more free, like when we used to play with Rajon (Rondo) on that second unit. Just play free and share the basketball. This is how it’s going to look.”

Clearly one who’s aware of the prognosticators who’ve said the Bulls will finish at the bottom of the standings, Mirotic added a bit of a bold statement, although it should be taken with a grain of preseason salt.

“I don’t think we’re going to be that bad like people are thinking.’’

How Bulls helped Thunder pull off blockbuster Carmelo Anthony trade

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How Bulls helped Thunder pull off blockbuster Carmelo Anthony trade

For all the Bulls fans who wanted to see the organization pull off a Carmelo Anthony trade over the years, they just got their wish.

Well, sort of.

According to The Vertical's Shams Charania, the Oklahoma City Thunder and New York Knicks have agreed to a blockbuster trade which will send Anthony to the Thunder for Doug McDermott, Enes Kanter and the Bulls' 2018 second-round pick.

Coincidentally, the Bulls traded a comparable package to what the Thunder just surrendered for the 10-time NBA All-Star.

Just before the NBA's trade deadline last February, the Bulls sent McDermott, Taj Gibson and a 2018 second-round draft choice to the Thunder for Cameron Payne, Joffrey Lauvergne and Anthony Morrow.

As the Thunder load up for a postseason run in the Western Conference, the Bulls are in the midst of rebuilding year after trading Jimmy Butler earlier this offseason and not having much to show from their previous trade with the Thunder.

The Bulls let Lauvergne and Morrow depart via free agency this offseason, while Payne will start the season on the shelf after undergoing foot surgery.

After the deal becomes official via a league call on Monday, Anthony will join reigning MVP Russell Westbrook and All-Star Paul George in Oklahoma City.

The 33-year-old Anthony averaged 22.4 points and 5.9 rebounds for the Knicks last season.

Jimmy, D-Rose, Embiid, LeBron, Lonzo: 10 most intriguing games on the Bulls' 2017-18 schedule

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Jimmy, D-Rose, Embiid, LeBron, Lonzo: 10 most intriguing games on the Bulls' 2017-18 schedule

The Bulls had as busy an offseason as any team in the NBA, which means there will be plenty of headliner games on their 2017-18 schedule, which the league announced Monday.

Here are 10 that all fans should have circled on their calendars:

1. Feb. 9, vs. Minnesota: This may be one of the most anticipated games featuring non-contenders of the season. Draft night's blockbuster deal that sent Jimmy Butler and the No. 16 pick to the Timberwolves for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the No. 7 pick is just the tip of the iceberg. Tom Thibodeau is still at the helm, and Taj Gibson signed with Minnesota in July. On the other end, Dunn and LaVine (assuming he's ready to go by then) will get a chance at revenge on the team that traded them. Butler jokingly said he's going to try to score "like 5 points" against the Bulls, but our guess is he's especially up for this game. It's also the Bulls' only scheduled nationally televised game of the year. Long live the #TNTBulls.

2. Dec. 4 vs. Cleveland: It's always a big game when LeBron James comes to town for the first time, and for the last seven seasons that's meant the Eastern Conference champions arriving with him. But there's an added twist this year, as quite the familiar face will be joining King James in Chicago. Derrick Rose signed a one-year, veteran's minimum deal with the Cavs. It remains to be seen whether he or Kyrie Irving will start at the point when these teams meet, but it's sure to be awkward when Rose and LeBron run a fast break to perfection. This sure ain't 2015 anymore.

3. Dec. 18 vs. Philadelphia: We Trusted the Process, and now the Sixers look like legitimate contenders for a playoff spot in the East. And although Joel Embiid has been in Philly for two years and Ben Simmons for one, the Bulls didn't see either in their matchups last season. Expect that to change in December, when the Bulls get a dose of what a successsful rebuild looks like. With Embiid, Simmons, No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz and a host of other young talent in the mix, the Bulls will get all they can handle with this group. They'll also get the blueprint for how they should proceed with their own rebuild.

4. Oct. 21 vs. San Antonio: It's the home opener for the Bulls, and in recent years that's meant good news. Winners in eight of their last nine openers at the UC, the Bulls will have their hands full when Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge and the Spurs come to town. Then again, the Bulls have managed to beat Gregg Popovich's group at the United Center in each of the last three seasons. They also had All-Star Jimmy Butler in those three matchups. The results may look different this time around, but recent records sure are on the Bulls' side.

5. Nov. 4 vs. New Orleans: It's always fun when hometown superstar Anthony Davis returns to Chicago. Last year The Brow dominated at the United Center, going for 36 points, 14 rebounds and 3 blocks in 39 minutes. Davis is back, and he's bringing DeMarcus Cousins with him this time. He's also bringing free-agent acquisition Rajon Rondo, who spent last season with the Bulls. Rondo originally was in the Bulls' near-future plans before they entered a rebuild, and it should be plenty of fun to watch him play against the young players he mentored last year. The last impression Bulls fans have of him was his absurd Games 1 and 2 against the Celtics, so expect Rondo to get a rousing applause in his return.

6. Nov. 24 at Golden State: There's never a fun time to play the Warriors. But this matchup is going to be brutally difficult. The Bulls begin their 2017 season playing 11 of their first 17 games on the road, and it ends with a trip to the defending champs' home court. The Warriors have been prone to ugly losses against lesser teams, but this might look something like last year's game in Oakland did (no Jimmy Butler, no Dwyane Wade meant a 31-point loss). Still, it's always incredible to watch this Warriors offense work, so it's making the list.

7. Oct. 19 at Toronto: So the Bulls no longer have their ridiculous winning streak against the Raptors that had spanned 11 games and four seasons. But this is the team's season opener, marking the official start of the rebuild in a place where they've had success in the past. It's unlikely Zach LaVine will be ready, but the Bulls will get to unwrap new toys in Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen and watch the development of guys like Bobby Portis, Denzel Valentine, Cameron Payne and others. From the Warriors to the Hawks to the Cavs to the Bulls, a season opener is a season opener. This one will be fun.

8. Nov. 21 at Los Angeles Lakers: You'll be hearing plenty about this, but Lonzo Ball is going to be must-see all year. He's the most exciting rookie point guard we've seen in quite some time, and the Lakers seem to be building something serious around him. Like Philadelphia, the Bulls can learn something from LA's rebuild that has seen them add players like Ball, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Ivica Zubac and Kyle Kuzma. This game will be a solid test for the young Bulls, especially if they're still without Zach LaVine. But all eyes will be on Lonzo. 

9. Jan. 8 vs. Houston: There's a new superteam in town, and they're bringing their act to the Windy City right after the calendar flips to 2018. Chris Paul and James Harden have teamed up to form what should be one of the most fun offenses in the league to watch. There's a shot Carmelo Anthony is part of this roster by then, adding more intrigue to the game. Assuming the new-look Rockets (they also added PJ Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute) hav worked out all the kinks this far into the season, this one could get ugly.

10. Nov. 19 at Phoenix: We're tossing this one on the list for a few reasons. There's an outside chance Kyrie Irving is the starting point guard by this time. Also, a Jimmy Butler trade certainly could have gone down with the Suns this offseason. It's a little game of "what if" when watching players like Josh Jackson, Marquese Chriss or Dragan Bender, who could have been part of a rebuild. Past that, CSN's digital department is #TeamSuns, so it's making the cut.