It took some time to sort out the details, but Nikola Mirotic is headed to New Orleans.
The Pelicans completed a deal Thursday to land Mirotic in exchange for center Omer Asik, New Orleans’ 2018 first-round pick and the expiring contracts of guard Jameer Nelson and forward Tony Allen.
The Pelicans also will receive in return their own 2018 second-round pick, which was sent to Chicago as part of the Quincy Pondexter trade this summer.
The move improves the Pelicans’ chances dramatically this season, adding a lengthy, accurate shooter into the frontcourt and helping make up for the loss of DeMarcus Cousins to a torn Achilles tendon.
Mirotic is averaging a career-best 16.8 points and 6.4 rebounds since missing 23 games while recovering from a facial fracture, suffered when teammate Bobby Portis punched him in practice.
With Mirotic on the floor, Chicago tallied a 14-11 record after opening the year a dismal 3-20. The 6-foot-10, 220-pound Montenegro native provided Chicago with lethal outside shooting, converting 42.9 percent of his 3-pointers and transforming one of the league’s doormats into a difficult matchup.
“He’s not just a shooter; he’s a scorer,” Anthony Davis said of his new teammate. “He can score. And it goes alongside well with our team. I think he’s going to be very helpful for us.”
The trade was nearly consummated on Tuesday but got delayed because of the Pelicans’ hesitation to take on Mirotic’s $12.5 million team option for 2018-19 season, according to sources. That fear seemingly dissipated Thursday, as New Orleans agreed to take on the team option.
The additional year means the Pelicans will need to make a move next summer in order to afford a maximum extension for Cousins without crossing past the luxury tax threshold.
For now, the trade is a decision the Pelicans hope will pay dividends immediately, allowing them to maintain position in a jumbled Western Conference playoff race after losing two dispiriting home games without Cousins available.
It’s also a statement Davis said he appreciates from the front office, not allowing the season to slip away despite critical injuries.
“For sure,” Davis said. “No matter who is here, we wanted to make sure we continue to try to make moves and better our team. That’s the most important thing. Even if DeMarcus was still here, we want to do whatever we can to help our team and put us in the right direction.”
It’s unclear exactly when Mirotic will join the Pelicans, but sources indicated the Pelicans are hopeful he will be available for at least part of their upcoming road trip, which starts at 7 p.m. Friday in Oklahoma City and concludes at 8 p.m. Saturday in Minnesota.
Whenever he arrives, the Pelicans' offensive prowess should grow greatly.
In the short term, Mirotic will likely join Davis in the frontcourt, moving the All-Star into a more traditional center role. While Davis repeatedly has expressed his preference to play power forward, he’s also said he’s open to doing whatever is necessary to get New Orleans into the playoffs.
“I think it’s something I’ll need to do more of,” Davis said Monday. “And I’m fine with that. I’ve told them I can play wherever they want me to and if that’s more time at the five, then that’s what it is.”
However, if the Pelicans are able to sign recently waived center Greg Monroe on the open market, that could change.
For now, though, Mirotic will be relied on to boost New Orleans’ scoring and provide spacing for Davis and Jrue Holiday. Without Cousins, defenses keyed in on the Pelicans’ primary scorers, sending double teams at Davis on nearly every touch and closing down driving lanes for Holiday.
“I just think we are trying to adjust to everything,” Holiday said before learning of Mirotic’s arrival. “We lost a really big piece who did a lot for us. Obviously last year, from the All-Star break until now, we had the big fella do a lot down there.
“But, last year it took a little while to get into a groove where we won five straight, and we’ll just have to adjust again.”