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Niko Mirotic of Chicago Bulls — Trade possibility fueling improved play


CHICAGO — Bulls forward Niko Mirotic admits that all the trade speculation surrounding his future in Chicago has been a motivating factor for him as he continues the best stretch of his NBA career. Monday marked the first day of the season on which Mirotic could be traded.

“This is kind of some motivation for me,” Mirotic said after Monday’s 119-111 win over the Miami Heat. “I know it sounds weird. But people are talking, ‘OK, Niko be gone’ and ‘Bye bye, Niko’ or whatever. But for me, it’s OK, just do what you’ve got to do. Play well and try to do your best until the last day and not be distracted. I know a lot of people were asking me before this, ‘OK, Niko, Jan. 15’s coming, what do you think?’

“No, I’m not thinking about Jan. 15. I’m thinking day by day, doing my job, being consistent, everybody’s talking about that the last couple years, and that’s my goal. Because when I focus day by day, it’s for me easier.”

Mirotic scored all 18 of his points in the fourth quarter Monday. Bulls center Robin Lopez said Mirotic came into the locker room prior to the game dancing. He was all smiles after the game, acknowledging that this is the most fun he has had during his four-year NBA career.

“I am enjoying this moment,” Mirotic said. “The team is winning. I am playing well. That’s all I can ask … I know my name is going to be there [in trade speculation]. But I’m doing my job, I’m sure [the Bulls front office is] doing their job, and we’re both going to do what’s the best for the team.”

Mirotic’s turnaround has become one of the most interesting stories of the season, given that his season didn’t start until Dec. 8. He missed the first six weeks of the season after being knocked out by teammate Bobby Portis in a practice scuffle and suffering a concussion and facial fractures. Since coming back, the Bulls are 14-7 with Mirotic on the floor. He is averaging career highs in points with 17.3 and rebounds with 6.9 per game. Portis is also averaging career highs with 12.2 points and 6.2 rebounds a game.

Mirotic knows that he might not be with the Bulls much longer, but he is hopeful that Bulls executives John Paxson and Gar Forman will give him a few more days before moving him. The Golden State Warriors come to Chicago on Wednesday.

“Hopefully [the front office] will keep [me] a few more games at least,” Mirotic said. “Especially that Golden State game because I want to play. It’s going to be a fun game. Let’s go day by day. That’s the only thing I can do. Be focused, enjoy this moment.”

Mirotic joked that reporters are talking to his agents more than he is as the trade talks continue to hover over his future.

“Probably you guys are talking more to my agents than I do,” Mirotic said. “Honestly, I don’t talk to them that much. I told them, ‘Listen, guys. If you have some news, call me. Don’t call me just to confuse my mind because I want to be focused and playing basketball.’ And that’s all I’m doing.”

On top of the ease with which he has been playing, Mirotic is enjoying playing with Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen. The Finnish star had 17 points and nine rebounds on Monday, and Mirotic can’t help but wonder what could be if he stayed with the Bulls and continued growing with the 20-year-old sharpshooter.

“Sometimes it’s not about you, what you want, what you think,” Mirotic said. “It’s about what [the front office] thinks, what they want to do for the future. I understand this is all kind of business. I’ll be fine with whatever decision they make, but I do love the idea [of] playing Lauri and me. I think it’s great … I can only control what I can control. So let’s see what’s going to happen.”



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