The Bulls have a problem. The Bulls specifically have a 6'10, Serbian problem. It's no secret that Portis and Mirotic can no longer exist together on an NBA team following their altercation prior to the beginning of the season.
For those who haven't heard, Bobby Portis punched Mirotic in a practice just before the start of the season. The altercation left Mirotic concussed and with multiple fractured bones in his face. The Bulls suspended Portis for 8 games as a result of the fight.
Despite some attempts by Bobby Portis to reconcile with Mirotic, the two have not spoken since the incident. Mirotic refused to even be in the Bulls' facilities at the same time as Bobby Portis, making sure his rehab and workouts are scheduled around team activities. He did workout while the Bulls practiced on Monday, but he made no attempt to interact with Portis. As the Chicago Sun Times and many others have reported, the situation has likely developed into a "me or him" ultimatum.
Unfortunately for Mirotic, the "me or him" demand likely results in the 26 year old Serbian being shipped off elsewhere. Bobby Portis returned after his suspension with back to back 20+ point performances. Most importantly, Portis showed that he can coexist with rookie Lauri Marrkanen on the floor at the same time. Portis gives the Bulls a scorer and versatility in the lineup. In a league that strictly follows a "what have you done for me lately" philosophy, Mirotic looks inferior in comparison to Portis.
Figuring out who to keep between Portis and Mirotic is easy, figuring out how to deal Mirotic is much more complicated. Keep in mind that Mirotic was on the market as a restricted free agent for well over a month and didn't draw a single offer. He clearly doesn't demand interest from any other NBA team. However, what Mirotic does offer is a team-friendly contract.
The Bulls signed the 26 year old power forward to a 2 year, $25 million deal. However, the second year is a club option, which could offer incredible value to a team trying to create cap space. With the upcoming free agent blitz coming this summer, there's no shortage of teams trying to open up cap space, but one stands out as a better trade option than all the others, the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Lakers always put themselves in the market for free agents, and that will remain the case as Paul George made it publicly known that he wants to play in LA next season. Additionally a number of people have connected Lebron James to the Lakers should he opt out of his deal with Cleveland after this season. However, offering a super max deal will prove difficult considering a few of the contracts they have on their books, specifically, Loul Deng's.
Signing the veteran forward to a 4 year, $72 million deal never seemed like a good idea, but now it's weighing down the franchise more than ever. The Lakers don't even utilize Deng's services anymore as he has only seen the floor once this season. Having a bench player cost upwards of $18 million a year until 2020 is not a recipe for success.
The Bulls could rid themselves of an awful situation by shipping off Mirotic, and the Lakers would get salary cap relief with the cost of a draft pick. However, that pick is where things get complicated.
If the Bulls pry away a first from the Lakers, it would be their 2019 first round selection (their 2018 pick is going to either the 76ers or the Celtics depending on where the Lakers finish). If the Lakers are truly a viable destination for Lebron James and/or Paul George, the cap space would out-value the pick. Outside of Loul Deng, only three players on the Lakers make north of $8 million a year (Brook Lopez, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Jordan Clarkson). The additional cap space created by clearing Deng's contract off the books makes it feasible for the Lakers to sign two max players. A 2019 first round pick would be a small price to pay if it meant two of the top 25 players in the NBA came to your team.
As for the Bulls, it would be fun to have Deng come back, but he would be in a near identical situation with the Bulls. The difference is that the Bulls can afford to buyout Deng so he can ring chase, compete for a starting job elsewhere, or hunt down another big money contract. It's not as though the Bulls will be a hot spot for the NBA's top free agents this summer, so sacrificing some cap space for a future pick makes perfect sense for the franchise.
*It should also be noted that Mirotic can NOT be traded until January 25th.
The ideal trade scenario for Chicago:
Lakers get: Nikola Mirotic PF
Bulls get: Loul Deng PF, Lakers 2019 1st round pick (top 6 protected)
It's worth keeping in mind that the Lakers have 2nd round picks in 2018 and 2019 (from Denver and Chicago respectively). Of course a first round pick is ideal, but the Bulls can buy Deng out. At the end of the day, a rebuild is all about acquiring young talent, even if the front office humiliated themselves last summer by trading Jordan Bell's rights in the second round.
It's also worth keeping in mind that the Lakers will likely try to flip Julius Randal as well. The Bulls likely wouldn't be buyers as both Markkanen and Portis have held down the power forward spot. That said, it's still an outside possibility since Randal has played center for the Lakers with reasonably good production. Unfortunately, absorbing two players while only trading one creates an issue with the Bulls roster. They would have to retroactively cut another player to make room for Randal. The Bulls would then either have to eat a lot of dead cap by cutting backup center Cristiano Felicio, cut Portis, or find a trade partner for Portis.