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Bulls: Re-evaluating Possible Trade Destinations for Mirotic, Lopez

We’re three days away from the trade deadline and it appears as though the Chicago Bulls have made no progress on any trade talks. But this is the same front office that dealt Jimmy Butler just minutes before it was their turn to draft, so patience is necessary.

For now, a remarkable trade has reshaped the market and could spur things on. Earlier this evening, news broke that star forward Blake Griffin was traded from the Los Angeles Clippers to the Detroit Pistons. This came hours after Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer confirmed previous links between the Pistons and Mirotic. 

Clearly, Detroit is now out of the running for Mirotic, as they possess virtually no trade chips and also have no real need for another forward. Perhaps that could spell the end of a potential Niko trade, but I doubt it.

The situation is too perfect—Mirotic is playing the best basketball of his career, Lauri Markkanen has locked down the PF spot, and Chicago wants draft picks or at least younger players. Plus, several contenders are sure to be interested in the unique versatility and current production Mirotic brings to the table. 

On top of that, although there are no definite trade talks, Robin Lopez is a good fit for a trade candidate.enough. He’s unlike Mirotic in so many ways, yet is still attractive for other teams. Lopez is incredibly consistent, scores at a high percentage, and embraces his veteran role. 

Furthermore, Blake Griffin moving from a non-contender to a now-contender might force teams to consider bulking up, with the new threat from the Pistons.

That all said, who specifically is a quality match in a Mirotic or Lopez trade, and what can the Bulls expect in return? 

Mirotic possibilities

The only other organization clearly linked to Mirotic has been the Utah Jazz. Our Sean Williams covered that possibility nicely in his article from a couple weeks ago. 

Essentially, Sean suggests that Derrick Favors might make sense as the key piece in a return from the Jazz. Although that makes sense, recent reports suggest that the Jazz are much likelier to ship away shooting guard Rodney Hood instead. 

Hood puts up a good amount of points, averaging 16.7 PPG this season, but shoots at a pretty low percentage (.413) and doesn’t collect many rebounds or assists, unlike the more versatile Mirotic. That said, he is younger and knocks down the three-ball at a pretty good rate, earning a .386 three-point FG% this season, both aspects Chicago desires in a LaVine backup for the future. 

Hood could also function as a shot-oriented small forward, standing 6’8″ and weighing in over 200 pounds. Whatever the case, given his age, production, and improvement, the Bulls surely could use him moving forward. 

Getting down to specifics, the Bulls are of course seeking a first-round pick for Mirotic. Rightly so, as the 29-year-old Montenegrin-Spaniard is performing superbly of late, with 2017 stats reading 24.3 points per 36 minutes, 9.2 rebounds P36M, and a .429 three-point shooting mark. 

Utah has to be excited about Mirotic potentially posting some monster numbers if he enters their starting lineup.

Hood and a first-rounder seem like too much value to surrender, though, I think Gar Forman and John Paxson would have to throw in Jerian Grant to complete the deal. After all, Mirotic’s recent play is very suspicious given his career trends, and Utah runs the risk of getting a hot hand about to cool down.

In the end, a trade with Jazz almost surely consists of Mirotic on one side, a first-rounder on the other side. I believe a reasonable offer is Mirotic/Grant for Hood/first-round choice, but keep an eye out for Favors or a Bulls second-round pick entering the conversation. 

Of course, if Forman and Paxson are smart, which is not necessarily the case, they’ll explore other options. Though we could go all day examining potential moves, it seems like the Portland Trail Blazers are the most likely destination for Niko behind Utah. 

A while back K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune threw out the Blazers as a team in the mix for Mirotic. 

Portland could certainly use an SF/PF type guy in their rotation, as they are pretty thin. Mirotic would replace Al-Farouq Aminu at power forward and look to provide a spark in the Blazers lineup.

Looking towards the standings, a Portland first round pick is worth a lot less than a Utah choice, being later in the draft order. However, the Trail Blazers are in win-now mode, and in order to compensate for the first round value loss, they might be willing to part with rookie center Zach Collins

Collins has been quiet in his debut season, posting averages of 4.3 PPG and 3.3 RPG in 15.0 MPG despite playing a lot better since January 1. But he was drafted tenth overall for a reason, as his seven-foot frame and skillset are rare. The center didn’t even produce much while at Gonzaga, as he slowly developed but still chose to enter the NBA draft. 

He’s certainly a project, and the Blazers might not have the patience for him. Chicago, on the other hand, would love to add Collins and bet on his potential. 

Given his situation, Collins is basically another draft pick Portland would be surrendering, and so they’d probably want a pick in return. Consequently, Mirotic and a second-round choice for Collins and a first-rounder make a lot of sense for both teams. 

Looking around the NBA, the Washington Wizards also make sense as a Mirotic pursuer, especially with the added threat of Detroit. Mirotic would be a solid upgrade over Markieff Morris at power forward, barring serious regression from Niko. 

While it’s all just speculation, for now, there’s no denying that Nikola Mirotic presents an intriguing trade candidate for several NBA teams.

Lopez possibilities 

I wrote this almost three weeks ago:

“One team that immediately comes to mind is the Boston Celtics. Behind Al Horford and Marcus Morris, the Celtics don’t get much production from the 4/5 spots. Though general manager Danny Ainge is unlikely to surrender one of their five 2018/2019 first-round picks (from Lakers, Clippers, Grizzlies, and two of their own) straight-up, Lopez could be packaged. Perhaps Chicago could send Lopez and a second-round pick for a first-round selection.” 

I stand by my evaluation of Lopez’s value, but with the Pistons becoming a much bigger threat, Ainge would likely be looking for a player who can contribute now, instead of a second-round pick.

Accordingly, I think a package of Lopez and Jerian Grant would command one of Boston’s higher first-round picks. Grant would fit in nicely as a fourth or fifth guard, providing depth and extra rest for Celtics at the 1 or 2 spot as they gear up for a postseason run.  

Bulls
Lopez vs. Blazers (Dec. 31, 2017 – Source: NBAE)

Surprisingly enough, Robin Lopez would also fit in great on the Cleveland Cavaliers. In fact, Lopez posts better numbers than each of Jeff Green, Tristan Thompson, and Jae Crowder, who share minutes at the PF and center positions. 

The Cavs are desperate for help, and with their recent slide, are certainly analyzing the trade market. Would they be willing to part with their coveted Brooklyn first round pick though? 

Straight-up for Robin Lopez, no. But if the Bulls want to go big, I think a package of Lopez, Jerian Grant, and a second-round pick could get it done for the Brooklyn pick, which will likely end up as a top-ten pick. 

Why Grant? Cleveland knows they own huge injury risks in Derrick Rose and Isaiah Thomas, and Grant could replace them in a worst-case scenario, or at the minimum provide them rest down the stretch. Cleveland would also take comfort in the potential that accompanies two second-round choices in one draft. 

With LeBron soon to test the free agent waters, and things looking so bleak, Cavs general manager Koby Altman and Co. should consider dealing the Brooklyn pick to win one more championship in 2018. If they’re unwilling though, a deal based around Lopez and a later, Cleveland-based first-round pick could work. 

Other than the Celtics and Cavaliers, there should be other teams who are interested in Lopez. In fact, Lopez would at minimum be the second-best center on any Eastern Conference team, and with Blake Griffin moving to Detroit, all contenders in the East could use the boost from Lopez.

In the end, it’s up to Forman and Paxson to pull the trigger on another future-oriented trade. Dealing Jimmy Butler is panning out well so far, but can the Bulls scout just as well for a Mirotic or Lopez deal?

Like all things in a rebuild, time will tell.

 

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