Bulls

Bobby Portis returns to Bulls with clean slate

Bobby Portis returns to Bulls with clean slate

Bobby Portis’ eight-game suspension is over and the assimilation process back into the land of the living will begin Tuesday night in Toronto.

While Nikola Mirotic continues to recover from the damage Portis’ punch caused, Portis will make his season debut and seemingly everybody is curious as to what type of player will step on the floor at the Air Canada Centre.

He’s been practicing with the team through his suspension and considering his incident with Mirotic was an act of aggression, it’s understandable to wonder if he’ll try to curtail that attribute when he comes off the bench.

“He’s been the same player as far his energy is concerned,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Every time he steps on the floor and need a jolt of energy, he can provide that for us. He needs to continue to do those little things that have made him successful when he’s been on the floor his first couple years in the league.”

Hoiberg intimated Portis has a clean slate and the situation won’t be held against him in terms of playing time. Hoiberg was asked if he had mixed emotions personally to have Portis back while Mirotic is still weeks away from stepping on the floor—if he even wants to do so in a Bulls uniform.

“Again guys, this is something that unfortunately, it happened. There was an altercation, and Bobby served the eight-game suspension,” Hoiberg said. “It was something that was thought a lot about as far as what the punishment would be in collaboration with the league. They felt that this was the right punishment. He sat out his games and he was able to stay active and practice with us. Now we’ll put him back on the floor. And again, we welcome him back.”

Portis hasn’t developed much of an identity in terms of production in his first two years but energy is the first thing that would’ve come to mind when Portis’ name was brought up—before his incident with Mirotic days before the season tipped off.

He’ll back up Lauri Markkanen at power forward and perhaps play alongside Markkanen at center for stretches, depending on the lineups the Raptors deploy.

[MORE: With Jahlil Okafor on trading block, is a Chicago homecoming imminent?

The circumstances, the wait and Portis’ general fervor for the game means he’ll probably be a bag of nerves before checking in. Since the incident and subsequent suspension, he’s had to leave the arena two hours before gametime so it’s been quite awhile since Portis has been around a meaningful basketball game.

“That’s human nature coming back from an eight-game layoff, suspension,” Hoiberg said. “I’m sure there will be some nerves. There are always nerves associated with the first game of the season. The biggest way to combat that is to go play with energy and do the things that have made him a successful player.

“Keep it simple. Focus on defending and rebounding. Don’t try to do too much early in his return. I’m sure he’ll be going 100 MPH his first time out there. But just give us great energy.”

They’ll need it from somewhere, in part due to David Nwaba’s right ankle injury keeping him out two-to-four weeks, according to Hoiberg. Portis was long mentioned as a top worker during the summer, spending a lot of time in Chicago in preparation for the season.

Tuesday will be step one in the process of having his name associated with something else besides punching a teammate.

“I’m definitely anxious to see what he has to bring,” Robin Lopez said. “I know he’s been putting in a lot of work, he put in a lot of work this offseason. I know there’s been some interesting situations going on, but I think we’re all excited to have him back on the court.”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Are the playoffs in sight for the Bulls?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Are the playoffs in sight for the Bulls?

On this episode of the SportsTalk Live Podcast, David Haugh (Chicago Tribune), Seth Gruen and Ben Finfer join Chuck Garfien on the panel.

The Bulls win again. Do they dare think playoffs? Vincent Goodwill joins the guys to discuss.

Plus, they debate where the “Minneapolis Miracle” ranks amongst the greatest plays in NFL playoff history and if Tom Ricketts is right to say that Sammy Sosa needs to put everything on the table to rejoin the Cubs family.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

Should Zach LaVine's minute-restriction make way for the Bulls' winning restriction?

Should Zach LaVine's minute-restriction make way for the Bulls' winning restriction?

The time goes by fast for Zach LaVine, from tip-off to the time he’s subbed out for Denzel Valentine as part of his minute-restriction plan.

“It goes by really quick. I look up, I’m like man, it’s already seven minutes,” LaVine said. “But that’s why I’m trying to make the most of the 20 minutes, think I’m doing a good job so far. I set out to help in every way I can.”

For the damage he does in his limited time, it’s making the Bulls and their winning-restriction plan go to mush, as he put up 18 points with five rebounds, five assists and more importantly, more minutes will be on the horizon sooner rather than later. After the Bulls’ 119-111 win over the Miami Heat Monday at the United Center, one has to wonder if the Bulls are approaching a crossroads for the season—or if unfortunately for the front office, the checkpoint on the long-term plan has already been unwillingly passed to the point of no return.

At 17-27, the Bulls are, in a sense, where they didn’t want to be—straddling the line between going for a playoff spot or getting as bad as possible to get in the best possible position for the lottery.

They’re here because Kris Dunn is playing like a top-half point guard and Lauri Markkanen is performing like a top-three rookie, shooting the three with a volume that would be the best for a first-year player in NBA history—a perfect fit for Hoiberg’s system.

Markkanen is growing perhaps into the superstar they hope to draft in June while LaVine will do everything he can to prove he’s more than a max player but a legit superstar who can play winning basketball along with filling up a box score.

And they’re managing to win close games at a rate experienced teams usually do, playing with a poise and freedom that stemmed from low expectations and a 3-20 start.

“We knew they were on a winning streak and just tried to play hard,” Markkanen said after a 17-point, nine-rebound night. “And play unselfish like we always do. And we had much success, so that tells a lot.”

The Heat was in a similar position last season, starting out 10-31 before making a charge so strong the Bulls had to win every game down the stretch to secure the final playoff spot.

After a so-so start, the Heat are nearly on a 50-win pace with a similar roster and no one with the ceiling of LaVine or Markkanen—along with having to replace Dion Waiters’ scoring and swagger, as he’s out for the season with ankle surgery.

John Paxson took the reins this offseason and firmly made the decision to begin a painful and possibly long, rebuild. But when affordable acquisitions like Justin Holiday starts shooting 50 percent from 3-point range and torches the Heat for seven triples and 25 points, it makes then plan harder to execute.

When Nikola Mirotic sprinkles some pixie dust on his game before the start of the fourth quarter to go from being scoreless to scoring 18 in the last 12 minutes to close out their third straight win, it puts the pressure firmly on the front office to make a big decision, yet again.

“The thing we’re chasing is that we’re trying to continue to grow and get better,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Take steps in the right direction. That’s all we talk about. We’re not talking about what’s at stake.”

Hoiberg is keeping his eyes and ears away from the front office's plans, as it does him no good but to bunker down with his locker room and peck away at this record.

He may not be discussing it with his team, but LaVine said the team is watching the Eastern Conference standings, game-by-game. At six games behind eighth-seeded Detroit, there’s four teams between the Bulls and a playoff spot—while being four-and-a-half games behind the Orlando Magic at the cellar.

And with the Magic rumored to be going all-in on selling before the trade deadline, willing to unload Evan Fournier, Elfrid Payton and Mario Hezonja, according to the New York Times, it’s clear they’re trying to cement themselves at the top of the lottery.

The Golden State Warriors are coming to the United Center in two days, and it’s likely the requisite beating will take place to quell some of the immediate optimism. But after that, the Bulls have some winnable contests that will likely have them right about where they are now, with each passing game lessening the likelihood of plummeting to the bottom.

It leaves Paxson and the front office in a precarious position, as the team is playing with more spirit and togetherness thus leading to praise the front office for its roster construction.

Trading a fourth-quarter performer like Mirotic would go over well in most circles, and although Mirotic is saying all the right things about having the most fun in his NBA career and wanting to play more with Markkanen, he still wants out and he prefers to go West.

One could see the Bulls taking a deal from the Utah Jazz in the form of expiring contract Joe Johnson and a protected first-round pick, then possibly buying out Johnson and letting him go to a contender with the pick being the crown jewel of the deal.

The longer he stays, the more games the Bulls win, the harder this becomes—and one has to ask about the futures of Robin Lopez and Holiday—who would be valuable as a reserve for a playoff team.

But would the Bulls trade anybody for the sole purpose of getting worse in the meantime? Hard to say but hard to envision Paxson doing anything less than what he deems equal value.

This season started with drama, proceeded as planned but took a turn towards something unexpected—and rather quickly.

And like LaVine’s minutes, the Bulls will have to make another decision because deadlines are approaching faster than even they could foresee.