Should the Utah Jazz pursue Nikola Mirotic?

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 01: Nikola Mirotic #44 of the Chicago Bulls meets with head coach Fred Hoiberg in the first quarter against the Portland Trail Blazers at the United Center on January 1, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 01: Nikola Mirotic #44 of the Chicago Bulls meets with head coach Fred Hoiberg in the first quarter against the Portland Trail Blazers at the United Center on January 1, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /

Chicago Bulls power forward Nikola Mirotic is looking like a prime trade candidate. But is he one the Utah Jazz should pursue?

We all knew heading into the 2017-18 season that this year was bound to be somewhat of a year of discovery for the Utah Jazz. The team didn’t boast the talent to truly compete for anything more than perhaps a low playoff seed and would be facing several big decisions regarding players currently on their roster at season’s end.

Even so, in some ways the season has been a little bit more disappointing than even many Jazz fans thought it would be. Of course, Donovan Mitchell’s emergence has been absolutely scintillating and he’s been by far the bright spot of the season, but outside of him, there’s been a lot of frustrations.

Dante Exum was lost prior to the season’s start with a shoulder injury. Rudy Gobert is dealing with his second knee injury and has already missed much of the season. Ricky Rubio has had the looks of an absolute bust in a Utah Jazz uniform. Joe Johnson, despite recent improvements, has struggled to find his way this season after dealing with a wrist injury. And after a solid start, Rodney Hood has once again fallen into a bit of a slump.

Those are just a few of the woes Utah has had to deal with along with inconsistency across the board. Their 16-22 record is pretty much spot on with how they’ve played for the most part this season – a few highs, to be sure, but more lows than anything else.

Therefore, when considering all that and especially when realizing that Dennis Lindsey and the rest of Jazz brass are very likely looking more towards the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons than they are worrying about what was always going to be a bit of a lost cause year, it’s quite likely that the Jazz will be significant players at or before the trade deadline.

They have a number of guys on friendly contracts with team options such as Thabo Sefolosha, Jonas Jerebko and Ekpe Udoh, as well as some talented expiring contract players such as Joe Johnson and Derrick Favors. Several Jazz writers have made it quite clear that Favors will almost surely not be making a return next season, so it falls within reason that Utah would look to move him now rather than lose him for nothing in unrestricted free agency.

The biggest question, though, is who could the Jazz get in return in a trade and who would make the most sense for them to pursue, not just for instant success but, better yet, for success two or three years down the road?

Well, one name who has emerged on Jazz Twitter as a potential candidate and a guy who truly is almost certain to be traded before the trade deadline is Chicago Bulls power forward Nikola Mirotic. Mirotic has had perhaps one of the most unique situations of any player this season as he started the year out of commission due to a facial fracture he suffered in a scuffle with teammate Bobby Portis.

It was a scary, and in fact life-threatening, ailment that could have been much worse than it ended up being. While he was out, the Chicago Bulls went a horrible 3-20 and looked destined to become perhaps the worst team in the league. However, since his return, the Bulls started 8-2 and have since gone 10-5 with him in action, helping them to spring up to 13th in the East and just six games out of the playoff mix which, considering their slow start, is pretty impressive.

And Mirotic’s return coinciding with Chicago’s sudden success is far from coincidental – he’s been absolutely instrumental to their incredible play. Mirotic is averaging 18.4 points per game on 49.2 percent shooting from the field and an incredible 46.3 percent from deep on over six attempts per game. He leads the team by a landslide in plus/minus at 4.1 and in net rating at 6.3. Without question, he’s been an absolute stud.

Nevertheless, stemming largely from previous issues with teammate Bobby Portis, Mirotic has still made it quite clear that he would like to be traded in spite of his success and that of his Bulls team. Especially considering that winning this season might not exactly fit Chicago’s rebuild plans, they’re likely going to be more than open to moving Mirotic to help them have flexibility in the future and resolve any player conflicts the team may be experiencing with him on the roster.

He’s made it clear that he’s willing to waive his no-trade clause (which on a side note is weird that a player of his caliber would have in the first place) and is almost certain to be traded by January 15th, which oddly enough is the date that he’s eligible to be moved do to some unique aspects of his most recent contract.

With that being the case and with the Jazz more than likely looking to make moves at or before the deadline, should they then be one of the teams that goes in pursuit of Nikola Mirotic?

In some ways, I really like the idea. The Jazz are in need of a reliable stretch-four that can spread the floor and knock down the three-ball with ease while also having enough size to not be roadkill against teams with large power forwards, i.e. the New Orleans Pelicans. Mirotic could very well fit in well next to Rudy Gobert and be a nice solution to Utah’s overloaded frontcourt, especially if someone like Favors or Joe Johnson were included in the trade.

He’s also on a relatively manageable two-year, $25 million contract that includes a team option in year two, making taking on his salary even less risky. If he’s a great fit and shows signs of helping the Jazz this year and beyond, then they could keep him. Otherwise, he wouldn’t weigh Utah down beyond this year of discovery anyhow.

The trouble is, I’m not so sure that the Jazz have the pieces that the Bulls would want. An expiring Favors contract that they can just be done with at the end of this year? Perhaps, but that doesn’t make a ton of sense either considering the team option in Mirotic’s deal. The Bulls aren’t going to look to get much better in a trade by adding immediate talent, so they’ll want to plan for the future. In that regard, I don’t know what assets the Jazz would be willing to give up that would fit Chicago’s plan.

Then on the negative side of things, there are some risks involved with Mirotic. First of all, the numbers he’s putting up right now are pretty significantly above those from his career. Sure, that will happen when you’re one of the best players on a bad team, but after a promising start to his career, there’s no denying that he had quite the down year last season in terms of his shooting.

Mirotic might also be playing so well in hopes that he can be a more attractive trade asset. If that were the case, it would be a shame if the Jazz traded for him only to see him revert back to 2016-17 status.

Furthermore, even if Utah did have something of interest to the Chicago Bulls, the question is whether the Jazz would maximize those trade assets by getting Mirotic in return or if there’s something better (be it future draft picks, a more favorable contract, a more promising young player, etc.) available that they’d be passing up.

In a perfect world, the Jazz would have a crystal ball and know exactly what options were out there, then could decide whether Mirotic was the best choice or not. However, since he’s eligible to be traded on January 15th and Utah likely won’t have as many answers as they’d like from their end or that of other teams until closer to the trade deadline, they almost certainly won’t have that luxury.

So to sum up all these thoughts, I guess my answer is this – I like the idea of adding Mirotic and think he could be a nice, low-risk addition. Utah needs a reliable stretch-four, so if he fits well, the Jazz can keep him for 2018-19 and perhaps re-sign him after that if things go right. If they were to pull the trigger on a Mirotic trade, I’d more than likely be just fine with it.

However, I don’t know that it’s my number one option. I don’t see Mirotic moving the needle all that much for the Jazz long term, so unless they have other tricks up their sleeves in which having Mirotic on the roster along with some other pieces will make them solid, I think I’d rather they instead make a move for future picks or a player whose contract helps the Jazz out for a longer period of time.

And when all is said and done, considering that Mirotic is likely to be moved shortly after his January 15th eligibility date and that Utah has little that I think would fit Chicago’s mold, I doubt this transaction goes through. The Bulls will probably be on the lookout for something different than what the Jazz have to offer and the Jazz may very well want longer than 10 more days to raise the trade value of some of their most movable assets.

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Nevertheless, as the trade deadline nears and with several loose ends in terms of how their roster is going to look in the coming months and seasons, you can bet that Jazz brass is going to be busy looking into trades for players such as Nikola Mirotic along with others.

The trade deadline is just over a month away and it’s more than likely that Utah will be heavy players once the time is right and the appropriate opportunities come about.