It turns out Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic did play cards one time together.
No, it wasn't War. It was just uncomfortable.
"We tried to be professional each and every day," Portis said—and probably for the last time with the trade of Mirotic to the New Orleans Pelicans—about his interaction with Mirotic after their preseason fight. "Come in and work, try and make things work on the court. Off the court we never talked or anything. We just kind of stayed away from each other. Played cards one time; it was kind of awkward. After that didn't play anymore. Tried to be professional to the utmost.'
Portis and Mirotic were professional, and actually played well together. But as the Bulls Saturday continue their road trip against the Los Angeles Clippers, it's Portis who remains standing. At least in a Bulls jersey.
"When things happen like that it kind of ruins not the team, but the idea that two guys are able to play with each other," Portis said after Bulls practice Friday at USC. "I think it was cool to play with him on the court. I thought we had great chemistry, trying to read each other, playing the high-low game."
Did he feel guilty about the punch that sent Mirotic to the hospital and cost him 23 games, Portis himself suspended eight games.
"Guilty?" Portis repeated. "No. I just come in and try and play basketball. Every team gets into a situation, but ours just blew up because of the whole hospital thing. Other than that I'm still sorry for what I did. Honestly man, I'm just over the situation, talking about Niko. I just want to talk about the Chicago Bulls, try and be the best basketball player. I feel like I've said it every time I talk to you guys, but I truly am sorry for what happened. I don't really want to talk about that anymore. As for me, I'm just worried about my future.'
hich is as the prime big man off the bench. Of course unless he starts Saturday as he did in the second half against Portland after Paul Zipser started. Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said he remains uncertain about who will start. And it's not one of those feints for the opponent because of the state of the Bulls mixed up roster with the Mirotic trade, injuries and personal excuses.
Hoiberg said Kris Dunn is improving, but likely would miss at least the last two games on the trip that concludes in Sacramento Monday. Lauri Markkanen, whose personal issue was the birth if his first child, will not play Saturday. He could join the team in Sacramento. The new players from the trade, Omer Asik and Jameer Nelson, joined the team after Saturday practice for physicals. They probably will be ready, but Hoiberg is on the same page with management to play more young players for evaluation and analysis. Tony Allen is not joining the team for now.
"We've got guys now who are going to get an opportunity who really haven't had much this year," said Hoiberg, echoing Thursday comments by Bulls executive John Paxson. "Paul and Cris (Felicio) are going to get a great opportunity and hopefully play well for us. (Ryan) Arcidiacono and (Antonio) Blakeney will have some opportunity. I've talked about this all along: At some point your name is going to be called. You have to take advantage of those minutes. That time is now. The big thing is finishing the season on a positive note."
It's also a big chance for the 6-11 Portis, who is having his best season. He is averaging 12.1 points and 6.2 rebounds. He is shooting 33 percent on threes and 48 percent overall, all off the bench. It's his first sustained play as a Bull in his third season after falling behind Mirotic, Taj Gibson and even Joffrey Lauvergne for a time. Now with Mirotic traded and, at least for now, Markkanen away from the team, it's an opportunity for Portis also to show whether he should be part of the team's plans.
"I'm just going to come in and try doing something similar that I've been doing," said Portis. "Move the ball, shoot the ball with confidence. Try and play with energy, effort, try to bring some juice off the bench."
There was more to the Mirotic trade than the altercation with Portis, who declined to detail what actually occurred in that practice. There was a failed summer negotiation with Mirotic and doubts about whether Mirotic should be an eight-figure earner before the young players the Bulls acquired in the Jimmy Butler trade. But the punch obviously played a part in the scenario, and Portis always has expressed contrition.
He hopes he's answered the last question about that in what could be a bizarre finish to the season with the new players and still another changing rotation. Still, Hoiberg and the players will push for wins, and Portis could play a significant part.
"Coming in here every day, getting a ton of confidence each and every game," said Portis. "Shooting my shot, trying to live for the moment. I feel like I've been getting better each and every day. Coach Pete (Myers) always says that with minutes comes experience, and that's been the biggest thing for me.
"Nah, not really," Portis said about whether he is aware of talk the Bulls intend to lose games for a draft pick. "That just means guys like me, Paul Zipser, Cristiano Felicio get more opportunity on the court to show that we can play. We're not looking at it like [tanking]. As a basketball player you're not just saying, ‘Oh we're going to tank to get picks or anything.' We're just trying to do our job each and every day. Follow coach's game plan and try and be the best basketball players we can each and every day, try and get wins.'
Which, obviously, will be more difficult without the team's leading scorer, Mirotic,
"Lemme first of all say this about Niko," Hoiberg began Friday in opening comments to reporters. "I really appreciate everything that he has brought to our team these last few years. It was a very difficult situation with everything that went down in the preseason. But he handled it great. He was very professional about it. And obviously when he came back, we played very well. We had as good a record as anybody in the league for that stretch in December. You look at the percentages he shot and the impact he had at both ends. It's not going to be one guy who steps in and shoots the way he did and plugs gaps defensively like Niko did. Bobby is going to have a much bigger role now."
It would be helpful if he can be an ace.