The in-house Bulls competition between Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis has become less opaque, and a little bit clearer. Portis is on the court playing, he is at practice, he is part of the team, he has atoned, while Mirotic is all into his feelings. Mirotic is still laying out his ultimatum: it is him (Portis) or me. The funny thing about the demand is that Mirotic really has no leverage. He has not played one second this season. Not his fault but the bottom line is the bottom line and in this case absence does not make the heart grow fonder.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the players have drawn a line in the sand. They want Portis. It’s not that they absolve Portis of breaking Mirotic’s face; they don’t. They accept that it was a wrong thing to do and outside the lines. But Mirotic isn’t a popular teammate. When Portis accepted responsibility, was accountable, apologized publicly, took all the heat (and jokes) for his behavior and then reached out to Mirotic, Mirotic gave him the cold shoulder. Refused any and all communication. Portis’ teammates took that as a slap in the face. And it was a character test for Mirotic that he couldn’t/wouldn’t accept an apology from a teammate. So who really has the problem?
Once Mirotic gave his ultimatum it brought into the Bulls’ orbit an issue they hadn’t considered. Moving either Mirotic or Portis. Logically, moving Mirotic somewhere else wouldn’t hurt the long term goals of Chicago who are stuck on rebuilding and developing Lauri Markkanen. Lauri Markkanen is the Bulls future hope.
Mirotic is hardly making the Bulls quiver by exploring trade possibilities but he is making them think, and perhaps forcing them to do something they do not want to do. Mirotic is hardly anyone’s star. He’s a role player who makes threes but he isn’t that much of a passer, doesn’t block shots and has never averaged 12 points in his 24 minutes. Mirotic is a space the floor power forward who can bully.
Is he now trying to bully Chicago management with his trade me throwdown?
Mirotic cannot be traded until mid January and he can veto a trade because of the team option at the end of this season. A few weeks ago, he gave signs through his camp he won’t veto a trade.
If the Bulls trade Mirotic, whoever gets him is getting a recently injured player who, lets face it, gets into the grill of his teammate, so much so, his teammate reacted inappropriately to get Mirotic to back way up. And the rest of the locker room has totally soured on him.
And so the Bulls have to ask themselves why keep Nikola Mirotic. Does he really matter?
Mirotic is four years older than Portis’ 22. The basic rule of thumb is keep the young player, particularly a 22 year old, and you let the older player walk and find happiness elsewhere. Though a baby in the league, Portis does have a role. He can come in and get rebounds and do the dirty things in the paint very few players want to do these days. Portis has a nice work ethic and even though he lost his mind for a few seconds, he was triggered by Mirotic’s aggression. Portis ability, if he can control his anger, can make him an impactful player in the league. Plus Portis has not reached his NBA ceiling. MIrotic is what you know he is.
“I just want to be the best teammate, best player possible for the team. I feel like my role on the team is if the team is down I’ve got to bring the energy for us. That’s what my teammates expect from me. I’m a very energetic guy, I’m a very passionate guy and I’m a competitor, so I live by those three things, and if I’m not doing those, I’m doing myself a disservice.” (Bobby Portis after his 21 points, 13 rebound performance against the Raptors )
The Bulls telegraphed how they feel about Portis with their rather light 8 game suspension for going all Mike Tyson. Paxson called Portis a “good kid” and let him practice with the team during his suspension. They seemed to be telegraphing to Portis his importance. He made a mistake but they still believe in him.
It’s unclear how the Bulls feel about Mirotic but when non-star players start making demands that is a slippery slope that can go downhill real fast. His teammates turning on him makes it seem as if the trading of Mirotic is inevitable. And at the same time, it reduces a lot of the Bulls leverage. Mirotic may be damaged goods and no one is talking about his face.
photo via llananba