Milwaukee Bucks: Nikola Mirotic opens up on shock NBA departure

After finishing last season with the Milwaukee Bucks, Nikola Mirotic has explained why he shocked the NBA by returning to Europe.

When the Milwaukee Bucks landed Spanish international forward Nikola Mirotic at a frantic 2018-19 trade deadline, it seemed like the kind of move that could end up being looked back upon with real significance.

With the Bucks already solidly positioned as one of the NBA’s best teams, and en route to what would finish as a 60-win regular season campaign, the price of four future second round picks was undoubtedly a gamble worth taking for a player who could give Milwaukee an additional weapon heading into the postseason.

Given Mirotic’s track record across his time with the Chicago Bulls and New Orleans Pelicans, and his hypothetical fit in the Bucks’ system, it looked to be a case of the rich getting richer, and a shrewd move by the Milwaukee front office.

As the following few months played out, Mirotic did go on to play a significant role for the Bucks, but didn’t manage to achieve the success that most would have predicted when he was acquired. A fractured thumb late in the season certainly didn’t help on that front.

In particular, the hope that Mirotic’s shooting could push the Bucks over the edge never came to fruition. The Bucks did put trust in him when the postseason came around, with the Montenegrin native even starting eight of 14 games in which he appeared, but on top of being a defensive liability, shooting splits of .376/.289/.821 certainly told their own story.

By the time what proved to be a decisive Game 6 of the Conference Finals against the Toronto Raptors came around, Mike Budenholzer had completely lost faith, and Mirotic was relegated to a DNP.

Perhaps most surprisingly, that may prove to be Mirotic’s last time even sitting on an NBA bench. Once a player who it would have seemed plausible for the Bucks to look to retain in free agency, Mirotic instead shocked NBA teams when he hit the open market.

Turning down a three-year, $45 million offer from the Utah Jazz, Mirotic opted to return to Europe and sign for FC Barcelona.

Nikola Mirotic has indicated he wanted a bigger role than he was getting in the NBA, and his time with the Milwaukee Bucks may well have factored into his decision to return to Europe.

In a recent interview, which was translated by EuroHoops, Mirotic has finally offered some real insight into what drove that decision to leave the NBA.

The 29-year-old revealed he had gone to a Greek airport to fly to Salt Lake City, breaking away from his family vacation, only to decide before boarding the plane that he didn’t want to play in the NBA any more.

Ultimately, Mirotic seems to have grown discontent with his role player status in the NBA, even though he became a player held in very high regard in the US, as Utah’s contract offer demonstrated. Speaking of his experience in the league, Mirotic remarked:

“The game was completely different. Games were played every other day, a more individual game and – what I had the hardest time understanding in the first season – is that everything revolves around the stars of the team: training, games, plays… First, it’s them that they have to touch the ball and then decide. It’s already known who takes the last shots, and I did not understand why. If I’m “breaking my face”, maybe I deserve more shots… In the end it was patience and training.”

More specifically, comments made by Mirotic in regard to his final NBA season, speak directly to his time with the Bucks:

“In my last season I knew what the team expected of me. My role was always the same. I was a player who was open to take the shots, who made a ‘pick-and-pop’ among the big guys… I was expected to score 10 points, take a couple of rebounds and that’s it. I felt that time was passing and I had not played the best basketball of my life, although it was very good. As soon as I didn’t feel that joy and happiness to improve, I said it was time to go back and do something bigger in Europe. For me, the most important thing has always been enjoying the game, being happy, an important piece, trying to win the titles and, if I’m not in that environment, I don’t care about all the money, I’m going away. I need challenges, to feel important and take the last shot.”

It may have been a bitter pill for Mirotic to swallow, but he was never going to take the final shot on a team with Giannis Antetokounmpo. Likewise, if he had played alongside Donovan Mitchell. That’s not really about the NBA or Europe as much as it’s about him as a player, and his ego.

Returning to Barcelona this season, Mirotic has had the opportunity to step into more of a leading role, averaging 19.3 points in 27.4 minutes per game before the coronavirus brought play to a halt. Making only 33 percent of his three-point attempts, he hasn’t necessarily regained the shooting touch that failed to materialize in his time as a Buck.

Mirotic certainly has the talent to make an NBA return, if he chooses to at some point. Given the need to “feel important and take the last shot” in his own personal hierarchy, there’s every chance that won’t come to pass, though.