Don’t Close the Door on Nikola Mirotic Just Yet

Published: February 8, 2019

It’s easy to assume that the Pelicans have closed the door on the Western Conference playoffs, contending for a title in the upcoming years, and yes, Nikola Mirotic. After just under one calendar year with the Pelicans, Mirotic was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday for Jason Smith, Stanley Johnson, and four 2nd round picks. The Three-kola era has come to an end in the Big Easy. Or has it?

The fact is that Nikola Mirotic will be an unrestricted free agent this summer and it is highly unlikely that the Milwaukee Bucks re-sign him. They have other core guys that they have to pay this summer, namely Khris Middleton and Malcolm Brogdon, and they already have a similar player in Ersan Illysova locked up for additional years beyond this one. It appears that Mirotic is a rental, and if that is the case, the Pelicans will have just as good of a chance as any in landing him this summer if they want him.


But if they want him so bad, why trade him at the deadline? That is actually pretty simple to answer. First of all, they don’t need him for this year and you can even argue that having him could be a deterrence in what they are trying to accomplish over these next 30 or so games. The sole reason for keeping him would have been to maintain his Bird Rights, but there is a very high probability that the Pelicans will choose to operate with cap room this summer, and in that case, his bird rights are pretty much useless. They can pursue him and give him the contract he desires this summer, in theory, using cap room and therefore there is no value in his bird rights. In essence, they let the Bucks rent Nikola for three months for four second round picks and the Pelicans essentially are in the same position with him as they would have been had he remained on the roster.

In fact, you could argue that the Pelicans are in a better position to sign Mirotic this summer at a reasonable price than they would have been had they just kept him. In a situation where a team holds a players’ bird rights, a player often can feel insulted by that teams offer if it comes in below their expectations because the player often argues that there is nothing structurally holding the team back from offering more. This is why you see Boogie insulted by the Pelicans 2 year/40 million dollar offer, but feeling grateful for the 1 year/5.3 million dollar offer the Warriors gave him. Though one offer was substantially more, the Warriors offered him the most they could possibly offer him, and in an egomaniacs eyes, that means they are more valued despite what logic tells you or me.

It essentially puts Mirotic and Randle on equal footing now. The Pelicans have bird rights on neither and therefore would have to use cap room on either of them. Just like it would have been had the Pelicans done nothing, New Orleans will have to choose one of them (or neither) and move forward. The difference is that now they can simply make their best offers to both players and put the pressure on both of them to choose, knowing that if the other grabs the offer first, theirs can disappear. And Niko cannot hold his bird rights over the Pelicans head in this new scenario. Oh, and in this scenario, the Pelicans also grabbed four extra assets to move forward with that they wouldn’t have had if they just played out the season and crossed this bridge in the offseason.


Yes, it’s possible that Niko might not want to re-visit New Orleans this offseason and by letting him out the building, he may now never consider returning. But more likely, they gave him a chance to have an enjoyable few months in the playoffs, and if the Pelicans put together a roster that would make sense to have Niko on it after they make their AD trade, then the two sides could find a number that works for both of them.

The bottom line is that the Pelicans have done nothing to make anybody assume that Mirotic isn’t in their future plans. He might and he might not be. But they have gained some leverage in negotiations and have acquired a couple of assets here while possibly also improving their own draft pick in the process. Oh, and if they put an extra roadblock in Boston’s way that takes them down early and makes them even more desperate for AD this summer….that wouldn’t hurt either.

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