Chicago Bulls forward Bobby Portis’ eight-game suspension for breaking two of Nikola Mirotic’s facial bones, resulting in a concussion, during a physical altercation during practice before the start of the 2017-18 regular season, is over. Mirotic is still a few weeks away from returning to the court despite being cleared to participate in light workouts like riding an elliptical bike. However, Portis will make his season debut for the Bulls tonight when they visit the Toronto Raptors north of the border.
Bulls’ players, management, and coaching staff have had to juggle the circus surrounding the aftermath between both players. Portis issued a public apology to Mirotic where he chalked up the altercation between them as two players “competing”. In fact, Portis used the words “competitors”, “compete”, “competing”, “competitor”, or “competed” a total of 11 times during the entirety of the apology to reporters before the Bulls home opener against the San Antonio Spurs on Oct. 21.
Not to mention that his demeanor and delivery during the apology conveyed closer to a school kid being forced to reluctantly apologize by authority figures for something he wasn’t really sorry for.
A lack of remorse and sincerity appeared to be present from Portis’ public apology to all parties involved. Tensions between all parties still appear to be high, as Portis stated during his apology, “I’ve texted Niko [Mirotic], I’ve called him. He didn’t respond,” said Portis.
Portis denied the assumptions that tensions boiled over after Mirotic was awarded the starting power forward spot in training camp, despite him voluntarily taking part in the team’s’ offseason workouts while Mirotic was absent due to contract negotiations.
Reports have also surfaced that Mirotic doesn’t want to return if Portis is still on the team. Both KC Johnson of the Tribune and Vincent Goodwill of NBCSportsChicago have a source characterizing it as a “me or him” situation. Joe Cowley, as you’d expect, is using a bit more dramatic language: reporting outright that it’s Mirotic’s camp demanding this.
The situation has become increasingly delicate as head coach Fred Hoiberg has publicly stated that he will not serve as a bridge between both players to mend their relationship and Vice President of Basketball Operations John Paxson stating that the organization will do what is in the team’s “best interests.”
Bulls beat writer and reporter Nick Friedell shared his thoughts on the situation on Twitter by liking one of NBA Insider Bobby Marks’ tweets.
According to a report from K.C. Johnson, Mirotic is understandably still upset about the incident, especially at the fact he’s still sidelined while Portis, who landed such a devastating punch, is already back with the team. Via the Chicago Tribune:
Meanwhile, though he is free of his concussion symptoms, [Nikola] Mirotic remains weeks away from returning from the two facial fractures that Portis caused with a punch to the face during an Oct. 17 altercation between the forwards in practice. Mirotic remains upset enough over the disparity in time of absences that he has had little contact with teammates, and his camp has made clear to management that, for now, it doesn’t see a way the two forwards can coexist.
The Bulls now find themselves walking down a path that will eventually end at a crossroads. Mirotic is due back in a few weeks and his return will be much earlier than when he can be traded on Jan. 15 due to signing a new contract in the offseason. By then, Portis will have hopefully found his role on the team. Or he will have increased his value as an asset in order to get moved or push the Bulls’ hand to pick him over Mirotic in a trade. The Bulls will be forced to decide between both players or forced to move forward without both of them.
The NBA is a business and business decisions have to be made regardless of sentiments. In its lowest terms its a game of numbers. The deciding factors will come down to contract value, length, and production. After all, valuable is only valued to he who values it.
In the mix of the beginning stages of the rebuild, the Bulls have the luxury of having the time to throw things at the wall and see what sticks. The irony of the situation is that the absence of both players has allowed for rookie Lauri Markkanen to play valuable minutes at the power forward position and he has thrived with the circumstantial opportunity. It would be ill-advised for him to lose his job to either player when they return. Hoiberg has come out and said that Markkanen will remain the starter. The decision should maximize his growth opportunities and potential during a season where expectations are as low as they have been in recent years.