The tall European piquing my curiosity most over his potential impact on the team's future is Nikola Mirotic, the 21-year-old Real Madrid power forward with a shot softer than a Spanish "j."
He needs to add muscle to his 6-foot-10, 210-pound body. He occasionally drifts more defensively than Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau ever would tolerate, according to Lopez Munoz. He still can add inside moves to complement his 40 percent shooting outside the 3-point arc.
"But he is coachable and absolutely one of the best players in our league,'' Lopez Munoz said of Mirotic, signed out of Montenegro when he was 15. "He's a rising star here.''
Inside the Berto Center, the Bulls say the same thing. Mirotic's contract with Real Madrid runs through 2015 with a buyout of about $2.5 million. The earliest Mirotic would leave Spain for the Bulls appears to be before the 2013-14 season, but many projections have 2014-15 circled on Bulls general manager Gar Forman's calendar. With so much roster uncertainty in the wake of Derrick Rose's injury, sooner is better for the Bulls to start determining whether they have the next Toni Kukoc or Dirk Nowitzki.
In his first comments to a Chicago newspaper since the Bulls traded for the rights to the 2011 first-round draft pick, Mirotic committed only to taking the prudent, patient path to a city he has yet to visit.
"I can't tell you right now when, but for sure I want to be totally ready when I take that step,'' Mirotic told the Tribune. "Currently I have a contract with Real Madrid and personal and team goals that I'd like to achieve. I want to improve as a player, and to get this goal (of playing for the Bulls), it's not advisable to go fast.''
With translation help from a Real Madrid official, Mirotic answered other questions via conversation and email.
How would you describe the season you had with Real Madrid?
It was a good season. (Mirotic became the first repeat winner of the Euroleague's prestigious Rising Star Trophy, and in 50 combined league games, he averaged 10.6 points and 4.5 rebounds in 21 minutes per game.) We won the King's Cup and lost the Liga Endesa finals in the last game. Personally, I'm really happy. I grew as a player, improving different things and helping the team win, independent of whether I had a good or a bad day on the court.
What do you consider your strengths and weaknesses?
I have a good shot, can play one-on-one or team play. The things that I have to improve are my defense and physically.
Is there an NBA player whose game compares to yours?
I can't tell you anyone who plays like me in the NBA. I have liked the way Dirk Nowitzki plays since I was a child: He does a lot for his team and almost always chooses the best decision.
Who is the toughest opponent you ever played?
Erazem Lorbek (FC Barcelona) and Mirza Teletovic (Caja Laboral).
How would you describe your feelings about playing in Chicago one day?
I really like the Bulls. They have a great history and tradition and legends. They're young and talented and have a big future.
What would you say to anybody wondering if you are ready for NBA competition?
I'd tell them I want to be at a higher level before going to the NBA. I had a good year but can make things better. I need to improve physically and develop my skills. I have to be an important player in Europe before thinking about the possibility of the NBA.
What advice does your agent, Igor Crespo, give you?
He told me to think a lot about my decision before taking this step in my career. I choose but have to analyze deeply the situation.
What are your impressions of Derrick Rose?
I haven't met him personally but watched him on TV. He's a great player. He seems to be a humble person, and I've only heard positive things. I have no doubt he's the best guard of the NBA.
Do you know any other Bulls players or members of the organization?
The only one I've ever met is (international scout) Ivica Dukan. I know the players on the team because I follow the NBA on TV.
What kind of player can Bulls fans expect whenever you arrive in Chicago?
I have a good shot. I can take open shots and open the court for my teammates. I can't generate spaces for my teammates by playing one-on-one, so I always give my 100 percent to help the team to get the victory. I want to be a complete player, committed to the team.