Confused and uncertain about how this conundrum with Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis is going to get resolved? Can they play together? Can they coexist? What’s next?
The Bulls are with you on all that, at least.
“I’m not going to get into any specifics about what discussions we have had with any agents and players,” Bulls Vice President of Basketball Operations John Paxson told reporters Friday at the Advocate Center. “What I do want to say is we’re really sensitive to this entire issue and what Niko is going through physically and mentally. We don’t have all the answers today. Just like in anything, as an organization we have to do what’s in our best interests. That’s the bottom line. And so we will. We understand what he’s going through. We have to be patient. It’s not something that’s going to be resolved overnight. We’re going to continue to communicate with Niko and his representatives and find our way through this.
“I don’t have that answer right now,” Paxson added about Mirotic and Portis working and playing together again.
"That’s why I say we don’t have all the answers today and I’m not sure where it’s exactly going to go. But we’re supportive of Niko and what he’s going through. We support Bobby, too. He’s a part of our team. You sit here in my position, Gar’s position, ownership’s position and you see it’s a distraction. But we also have to keep these young guys focused on what they’re doing. And they’re playing games right now and trying to get better every day.”
In recent days there have been anonymous media reports of alleged ultimatums and potential trades. So Paxson Friday elected to address reporters. The message essentially was the Bulls haven’t made any decisions and are trying to adjust to the atypical events as they occur daily since there is no playbook for this type of situation. Two days before the season opener, Oct. 17, Portis punched teammate Mirotic during a scrimmage.
Mirotic suffered a serious injury with a concussion and facial fracture that still is being treated. The Bulls suspended Portis for the first eight games of the season. Portis made a brief media appearance to apologize. Mirotic remains in the league’s concussion procedure while considering options for potential surgery. He is out at least a month.
That has produced speculation and reports of perhaps an inability to ever play on the same team or whether one of the other player must or should be traded or released and how soon. Because of the unique nature of the events with a teammate delivering such a blow that causes significant injury, Paxson indicated the team is trying to react to circumstances while focusing primarily on the welfare of Mirotic and Portis.
“We’ve reached out to Niko,” Paxson said. “Our medical staff is in contact with him every day. We want to get him back. He’s been cleared to do some light physical things, like ride a bike. We’re trying to schedule with him how to do that because he has to do that under our supervision. We’re being really sensitive to this. Today is the day we’re going to try to move this forward a little bit. Niko has the opportunity to do some light physical work. We need to have him do that under our supervision. We’re going to go day to day with it. It may not be today (Mirotic works out at the Advocate Center), but it’s going to be soon. We’re trying to be sensitive to his feelings and what he has expressed to us.”
Portis is eligible to play again Nov. 7 in Toronto and has been practicing with the team, though he isn’t permitted in the arena on game nights because of the suspension. Paxson said he believes the team acted appropriately and in concert with the league, and that Portis faces issues, as well.
“In doling out the punishment to Bobby, that’s fairly unprecedented, too, what we did,” Paxson said. “We consulted with the league to make sure we were going about it the right way. We’re confident with what we did. I’ve never been in Niko’s position where something like that happens. We are trying to understand it and work with him and his people. He’s (Portis) a young guy. I’m sure he’s dealing with things in his own way. I think it’s good he’s around his teammates right now. But an eight-game suspension is a long deal. I’m sure it’s hard for him to sit and watch just like it’s hard for Niko to sit and watch. This is a very difficult situation. That’s why I’m saying we don’t have all the answers today. But we’re working through them. We’re going to come to some resolution. When that will be, I don’t know.”
The Bulls later Friday announced the third and fourth year options were picked up on five players, including Portis and the injured Cameron Payne. It’s merely a method for assuring the players are under control of the Bulls and can be kept or traded without them being able to leave as unrestricted free agents after this season.