Tanks a Lot! Mirotic Is Ruining Bulls’ Best-Laid Plans to Lose Often

Matthew Jordan

Wednesday, January 3, 2018 4:19 PM UTC

Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018 4:19 PM UTC

The Chicago Bulls are supposed to be tanking, yet have been one of the best ATS bets in the NBA this season. There are reasons to believe that could change soon, however.

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From owner Jerry Reinsdorf to President of Basketball Operations John Paxson to General Manager Gar Forman to Coach Fred Hoiberg, everyone in the Chicago Bulls organization was on the same page entering the 2017-18 season: The franchise was tanking to land a very high pick in the 2018 NBA Draft and find the franchise’s first true superstar since those few years Derrick Rose was healthy.

Of course, the Bulls traded their best player, All-Star guard Jimmy Butler, to Minnesota at the 2017 draft for guards Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine and the No. 7 overall pick, which became Lauri Markkanen. The braintrust’s 2017-18 tanking plan was working spectacularly at first as Chicago had the NBA’s worst record at 3-20.

Then something happened on Dec. 8: forward Nikola Mirotic made his season debut. He had suffered a concussion and jaw injury after being punched in the face by teammate Bobby Portis on the eve of the season. Apparently, Mirotic didn’t get the tanking message because the Bulls have been one of the NBA’s best bets since then and have the second-best ATS mark in the NBA all season (as of this writing) behind Boston.

Mirotic was a restricted free agent this summer but couldn’t find much on the market and re-signed on a two-year, $27 million deal. Mirotic is an OK player but mega-streaky. He could put up 30 points one night and go 1-for-12 the next. But so far this season, he’s averaging career highs in points, field-goal percentage, 3-point percentage and rebounds. He’s the biggest reason why the team has been so different following the 3-20 start.

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Nikola Mirotic getting his face re-arranged by Bobby Portis is the greatest thing that has happened to the Bulls franchise since pre-ACL tear Derrick Rose

— Russell TripDubBrook (@Jhickness9) December 31, 2017
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The Bulls had a win total of 22.5 on the NBA futures odds back in early October. As things look now, they are not only going to surpass that by a fair amount but not be among the five-worst teams in the league. The worse you are, the more ping-pong balls you get in the draft lottery.

There is one piece of good news, however, if you bet the ‘under’ 22.5 win total: Mirotic seems likely to be traded soon after Jan. 15. That’s the first time he can be dealt since he was re-signed as a restricted free agent. As good as the 26-year-old Yugoslav has been, he’s not in the team’s long-term plans. So while the better he plays the worse it is for Chicago’s tanking the higher is trade value becomes.

There are plenty of NBA title contenders who could use a stretch-four like Mirotic. He has a no-trade clause but has reaffirmed he is willing to waive it. Mirotic isn’t very popular on the club as all the teammates took Portis’ side in that fight. Mirotic and Portis have let bygones be bygones, though, and lineups featuring both players have outscored opponents by nearly 20 points per 100 possessions.

Chicago would also gladly trade veteran center Robin Lopez and guard Justin Holiday to help with the tanking for 2017-18. Lopez is a true professional and good player with a nice contract, but teams aren’t really looking for back-to-the-basket centers in the modern NBA.

While dealing Mirotic would weaken the Bulls, the impeding debut of LaVine off his ACL surgery would seem to hurt the tanking project again. Last season with the Timberwolves, LaVine was averaging 18.9 points per game on 45.9 percent shooting, both career highs, before the ACL injury. LaVine is likely to debut with the Bulls no later than Jan. 15 vs. the Heat. Perhaps that will also be Mirotic's last game.

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