CHICAGO — Bulls forward Bobby Portis will make his season debut Tuesday night against the Toronto Raptors now that his eight-game suspension is up, but what remains unclear is how exactly he’ll fit into coach Fred Hoiberg’s rotation.
Portis was suspended for punching Bulls forward Niko Mirotic during an Oct. 17 practice. He knocked out his teammate and left him with a concussion and several facial fractures.
“[Portis has] been practicing, and that will all be discussed in the next couple days, exactly what we’re going to do in the Toronto game,” Hoiberg said after Saturday’s overtime loss to the New Orleans Pelicans. “The biggest thing is try to go out there with the guys that we’ve had available and put them in a position where they’re competing and giving ourselves a chance to win. And for the most part, with the exception of the Oklahoma City game, we’ve done that. We’ll get that figured out in the next few days.”
The dynamic between Portis and Mirotic moving forward will be much more difficult for the Bulls to figure out. In his first public comments since the altercation, Portis said he texted and called Mirotic but has not heard back from him. Mirotic reportedly has told the Bulls that they have to decide whether they want to keep him or Portis moving forward. Publicly, the Bulls have tried to stand behind both players, but it remains unclear if the players will be able to share the floor together again.
Hoiberg said before Saturday’s game that Mirotic is in better spirits and has started rehab work in the pool, but he appears to be a long way from being able to play. The larger issue is that up to this point, Mirotic has stayed away from the team, particularly Portis, as the Bulls try to juggle practice time so that Mirotic can use the Bulls’ facility when there isn’t a chance that Portis will be around.
This will become more difficult now that Portis is returning to the active roster. For their part, Mirotic’s teammates have tried to offer support in the form of text messages, but they are also happy to have Portis back in the fold.
“I think he’s handled it as well as he could have,” Bulls center Robin Lopez said of Portis. “I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen going forward with rotations or anything, but I know he’s mentally prepared for it, and we’re excited to have him back.”
Former Bulls guard Rajon Rondo, in town as a member of the Pelicans, acknowledged what many in the Bulls organization have privately disclosed. When asked about the possibility of Portis and Mirotic sharing the floor together again, Rondo was blunt in his assessment.
“I think it will be tough for them,” Rondo said. “That situation, yeah, I think it will be tough.”
Rondo, who says he is trying to support both players, grew close to many of the Bulls young players last season, including Portis and Mirotic.
“Was I surprised?” Rondo said. “It’s basketball, and it’s a competitive sport, it’s a physical sport, it’s a touchy sport. I don’t know what happened that particular day. I don’t know what those guys were going through that morning. It’s not just about what happened at practice. There could have been some [stuff] happening at home that one of those guys were going through, you just never know. So I don’t know what caused it … but sometimes that’s how it is. We got into fights back in Boston. Nothing that serious, but we got into a couple scuffles, and we kind of handled it in the locker room.”
From a basketball perspective, Hoiberg is just happy to have another active body to help his rebuilding team. Hoiberg did make it clear that no matter how much Portis plays in the future, rookie Lauri Markkanen will remain in the starting lineup.
“He’s working extremely hard,” Hoiberg said of Portis. “When everything happened, we had to put together makeshift lineups, guys that hadn’t played positions. So those guys were getting most of the reps in practice. Obviously, they were the ones we were going to play in the games. Bobby’s been getting a lot of extra work in before and after practice. We’ll give him a lot of reps here [in Monday’s practice] … he’s a competitive kid. I know he’s excited.”