Bulls, Nikola Mirotic remain hopeful on striking free-agency deal


The Bulls and Nikola Mirotic have found common ground — their desire to keep their three-year relationship going.

To this point, the two parties obviously have yet to agree on money or else a deal would’ve been announced almost immediately as free agency began at 11:01 p.m. Central last Friday.

That’s when the Bulls and Cristiano Felicio, the team’s other restricted free agent, agreed on a four-year, $32 million deal that the reserve center can sign when the moratorium ends Thursday. Like in the Felicio situation, the Bulls had plenty of preliminary time to gauge Mirotic’s market before free agency began.

Since the Bulls can match any offer Mirotic receives, they appear to be taking a hard line on salary and length of deal. Basically, the Bulls are negotiating with the philosophy that if Mirotic wants a higher salary, he needs to sign an offer sheet from another team.

That said, sources on both sides of the negotiations have described them as cordial and the gap to be bridged not that large. According to sources, Mirotic has drawn preliminary interest from at least two teams but has no visits scheduled.

“I love the Bulls,” Mirotic said during the season. “I love my teammates. I love the city. It’s the perfect place for me. My family is very happy and comfortable here. The first idea is to re-sign.”

Even after drafting Lauri Markkanen, the Bulls need outside shooting. And despite Mirotic’s well-documented inconsistency, his ability to provide floor spacing is vauluable because defenses still respect his shooting. But at what cost?

“In his three years here, he’s been statistically much better after the All-Star break,” executive vice president John Paxson said recently. “We look at that and try to analyze that.

“We hope we’ll be able to work something out. But we also hope that he’ll be here all summer long. And we hope that statistically, what he’s done after the All-Star break these first three years, we’re hoping he can do it more consistently. Because let’s face it, in this game, you need floor spacers and shooters. And when he’s playing that role, he does help our basketball team.”

Paxson’s reference to wanting Mirotic in Chicago most of the offseason is a reference to Mirotic losing offseason training time because of Spanish national team commitments. Mirotic has none this summer and posted a picture of him working out at the Advocate Center last month in which he stated he had gained eight pounds of muscle.

Mirotic also attended the introductory news conference of Markkanen, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn at the Advocate Center and got shots up on an auxiliary court beforehand.

Mirotic, 26, has averaged 10.8 points and 35 percent 3-point shooting in his three NBA seasons.

kcjohnson@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @kcjhoop



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