They would not admit this in public, but in private the Chicago Bulls must know it is true: the season is a bust.
Expected to be title contenders before the season, Chicago were undone by the loss of Derrick Rose, one of the best players on the planet when healthy, to another season-ending injury.
Worse yet, in this year’s Eastern Conference, they are not even bad enough to find some consolation. At 14-18, they are the East’s sixth-best team, putting them on pace for play-offs slaughter as well as missing out on the lottery of a once-in-a-decade quality college draft.
Still, not all is dark for the Bulls and their fans. They simply have to look to Europe for a little light.
There they will find Nikola Mirotic, 22. He is employed by Real Madrid and he might be the best player in the world not plying his trade in North America. The Bulls own his NBA rights.
The Montenegro native has been the best player on arguably the best team in Europe. Madrid have not lost in 10 group-play rounds and one Top-16 round, thanks in large part to the 6ft 10ins forward.
Tops in Europe in three-point shooting (59.4 per cent) and 11th in scoring (14.5 points per game), his game is in some ways reminiscent of another big European with a soft touch: Dirk Nowitzki.
His exceptional ball-handling for a player his size, his fluidity around the basket and the shooting touch make it seem not that outlandish, at least.
His contract includes a buyout after this season and, if Mirotic wants to play in the NBA, he will have a chance to soon. If he does, and Rose regains his health, Chicago may yet see a bright light at the end of the 2013/14 tunnel.
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