Pelicans acquire Mirotic from Bulls for 3 players and pick
NEW ORLEANS — The New Orleans Pelicans acquired forward Nikola Mirotic and a second-round draft pick from the Chicago Bulls for center Omer Asik, guards Jameer Nelson and Tony Allen, and a first-round pick.
The trade, announced by both teams late Thursday afternoon, comes less than a week after New Orleans lost All-Star DeMarcus Cousins for the season because of a left Achilles tear — and with the Pelicans still in the playoff picture.
Mirotic has averaged 16.8 points and 6.4 rebounds since missing the first 23 games this season because of two broken bones in his face stemming from a fight in practice with Bobby Portis. The altercation soured Mirotic on playing for Chicago, and the Bulls were looking to accommodate his request to be traded.
“Niko’s representatives were consistent over the last several months that they wanted him moved,” said John Paxson, the Bulls’ executive vice president of basketball operations. “They never backed off of that stance one bit.”
Nelson has averaged 5.1 points and 3.6 assists in 43 games for New Orleans. Allen averaged 4.7 points before a broken leg sidelined him for 22 games. He returned to the active roster this week but did not play in Tuesday night’s loss to Sacramento. Asik has averaged 1.3 points and 2.6 rebounds in 14 games this season.
Paxson said acquiring another first-round draft choice fits the plan of retooling the roster that was put in motion when Chicago traded Jimmy Butler to Minnesota.
“The draft asset that we acquired in this deal was far and away the best that we got. It’s just consistent with the direction, the plan that talked about,” Paxson said. “As we mapped out what Niko would be looking for financially, especially, that wasn’t part of our timeline. We now have a situation where we’re invested in these young guys. Our focus remains on the growth and development of them.”
New Orleans had been seeking to unload the 7-foot Asik, who has struggled with his health and has been unable to return to his form from earlier in his career since the Pelicans signed him to a five-year, $58 million contract that would expire after next season if a team option is not picked up.
Mirotic is due $12.5 million next season, but that becomes easier for the Pelicans to absorb now that Asik is off their books. He was due about $12 million next season.
Still, financial flexibility remains important for New Orleans. Cousins enters free agency this offseason, and the Pelicans hope to re-sign him.
The Pelicans won seven of the last eight games that Cousins played alongside fellow All-Star starter Anthony Davis. Two of those victories came against teams with the second- and third-best records in the NBA — the Houston Rockets and Boston Celtics. Since Cousins’ injury, New Orleans has dropped two straight.
New Orleans plays next at Oklahoma City on Friday night.
As part of Thursday’s trade, Chicago will have the right to swap its 2021 second-round pick with New Orleans’ own 2021 second-round pick.
In a corresponding roster move, the Bulls waived veteran wing player Quincy Pondexter, a former Pelicans player who has struggled with knee injuries for most of the past three seasons.
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