In news that kind of got swept under the rug a bit, one of the sparkling new additions to the Chicago Bulls for this forthcoming season Spanish-Montenegrin Nikola Mirotic, the highest paid European rookie in NBA history, will not be playing in the FIBA World Cup for his naturalized country of Spain. Mirotic had previously expressed that his intention was to participate in the World Cup (which begins Aug. 30) if he were to make the roster, but the puzzling thing is that he didn’t make the roster.
Spain’s 12-man roster includes three of the NBA’s top talents at the forward/center position in Marc Gasol, the nimble big man of the Memphis Grizzlies; Marc’s brother Pau Gasol who is another newly acquired Bull but also a former NBA champion; and Serge Ibaka of the Oklahoma City Thunder who shifts opposing offensive game plans by his imposing defensive presence.
Aside from the Gasol’s and Ibaka, Spain also boasts three other players 6-foot-9 or taller, two of which have had previous national team experience, and experience is a much-valued quality in the international circuit. Mirotic’s likelihood of making the team hinged on the health of Ibaka, and once it was known Ibaka would be healthy enough to be a contributor, that left Mirotic as the odd man out.
Spain is viewed as the main competition for the United States, similarly to how the Chicago Bulls and the Cleveland Cavaliers are considered the top dogs in the NBA’s Eastern Conference and that the rest of the field would be overachieving to knockout either of the two giants.
Spain also has the luxury of being the home country, games will be held in Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao, Granada, Sevilla, and Gran Canaria. They’ll be in Group A while the US will be in Group C – setting it up so that the two teams won’t meet unless it’s in the final game of the tournament.
But as for Mirotic, he’s played with Spain’s Under 20 National Team twice in his international career, but never for the senior group. It strikes one as odd that a player of Mirotic’s caliber wouldn’t be selected to the roster although Ibaka, who is the superior player between the two, occupies his spot. Stacking a roster with the most talent possible might be an American mentality towards building a roster as it seems international teams prefer players who fit a team’s style of play and mesh with the system transactionally.
While Bulls’ fans have had their attention, or in most cases, plight, directed at Derrick Rose’s international participation – Mirotic not playing for his national team presents the opposite conundrum. For Rose, it’s a loud accentuating, ‘Why is he playing?’ For Mirotic, it’s a silent curiosity, ‘Why isn’t he playing?’
The explanation for that is simple: Rose is the difference between a championship and Mirotic is not. But the point is that the attention on Mirotic hasn’t been amplified because nobody is really sure what to expect out of him, the element of the unknown works in funny ways. Before he was signed, he was the next Dirk Nowitzki, and now that he’s here he’s drowned out by the Rose-centric noise.
There's a mistake in this article that fails to mention that per FIBA rules a team is only allowed one naturalized player on its roster. Serge Ibaka, along with Mirotic, are both naturalized players and Spain elected to use its one naturalized player on Ibaka. Therefore, Mirotic didn't make the team due to FIBA rules and nothing else. Here's a 2013 article referencing the rule.
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