As we wind down—but for a couple of potential big-ticket trades—the NBA offseason, one of the surprises of the summer remains a guy who will not be in the league next season, a guy the Bulls were rumored to want to bring aboard. That would be 2021 EuroLeague MVP Vasilije Micic, the Serbian point guard of the Turkish club Anadolu Efes. After years of teasing his interest in the NBA, Micic finally seemed ready to make the leap, yet, as the dust has settled on this summer, he is remaining in Europe yet again.
At 28, Micic is arguably the best player in the world not currently in the NBA. He averaged 18.7 points and 5.8 assists for Efes this season, with 48.4% shooting and 44.1% 3-point shooting. He clearly could have helped a number of teams next season, but won’t be doing so—not on this continent, at least.
So, what happened? Well, there were a number of factors.
First, there was Micic himself. To ditch Efes and head to the NBA, Micic wanted a few things—a salary in the $6-7 million per year range, a starting spot (or, at least, starter-type minutes), and a role with a contending team.
That eliminated a chunk of NBA interest off the bat.
“I think there was hesitancy to give up what would be your whole midlevel (exception) if you were a tax team for a guy who, you’re not sure how he fits,” on NBA general manager told Heavy Sports. “Most of the good teams, they’re tax teams this year. So you’re using your best chance to improve on a guy who has some risk, a lot of unknown. I think the Clippers’ experience with (Milos) Teodosic fed into it where a lot of teams said, ‘We don’t have much to spend, we can’t afford a mistake like that.’”
Teodosic was another slick-passing point man who, at 6-foot-5, also once held the “Best-Player-Not-in-the-NBA mantle. The Clippers changed that in 2017 when they signed Teodosic out of CSKA Moscow, after he’d averaged 16.1 points and 6.8 assists, leading his team to the EuroLeague Final Four. Teodosic got a two-year, $12.3 million contract from the Clippers but flopped after never quite finding a role in L.A. He was waived a year-and-a-half later, after just 60 games.
Point Guards Aplenty in the NBA
Second, there was a lack of need for Micic.
“This is a really good era in the NBA for point guards,” the GM said. “Pretty much everyone has a point guard who is at least good, especially if you’re a contender. You always want to improve and add to your depth but if you’re going to use a significant chunk of money on a position, it is going to be your big need, and there just are not a lot of teams needing point guards.”
According to a report from Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report, the Bulls, Nuggets and Bucks were among the teams who had an interest in Micic. But the Bucks were happy with Jrue Holiday, George Hill and Jevon Carter as their point guards, with much of the offense running through Giannis Antetokounmpo anyway. The Nuggets were similarly satisfied with Jamaal Murray, Bones Hyland and, after a trade, Ish Smith.
Chicago, though, did want a backup point guard, and was Micic’s best shot at landing in the NBA. With Lonzo Ball’s knee still a question mark, there was a chance Micic could even open the season as the starter. But the Bulls would have had to have made two sacrifices the team did not want to make to get Micic aboard—give up a draft pick and go over the luxury tax line.
Oklahoma City Sought Compensation for Micic
Because Oklahoma City owns the rights to Micic, from its trade with the Sixers to take on the contract of Al Horford, the Thunder also played a role in Micic’s summer. Any team looking to acquire Micic would have to give Oklahoma City some draft compensation—preferably a first-rounder, though it’s possible the price could have been brought down.
“I think that was where it was a little too much for teams,” one Western Conference executive said. “No one wanted to give up a pick plus everything else it would take. The guy can play, I think he’d be good in the NBA. But no one wanted to give up picks and money for him.”
Paying Micic a contract that started at, say, $6.5 million would have put Chicago over the tax line—they’re almost $2 million under it now. That’s because they went with a cheaper option than Micic, Slovenian point guard Goran Dragic, who has a $2.9 million minimum salary. Because he is a veteran, the NBA picks up $1.1 million of Dragic’s paycheck, and altogether, the Dragic signing kept the Bulls under the tax line, meaning the organization stands to take in what is expected to be a record-breaking payout from teams over the threshold.
No draft compensation was needed, and no risk of a Teodosic-type disappointment was at stake. Dragic is 36 years old and injury-prone, but he’s a known quantity and the Bulls figure they can get by with Alex Caruso, Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu taking backup minutes whenever Dragic is out.
Micic remains an intriguing prospect, and he’s clearly eager to test himself against the NBA. But, for this year at least, no NBA team was willing to take the risk that came with signing him.