Nikola Mirotic returns to Bulls facility but status quo remains for him and organization


Nikola Mirotic returns to Bulls facility but status quo remains for him and organization

In what Fred Hoiberg called a “big step,” Nikola Mirotic was slated to return to the Bulls practice facility ON Tuesday afternoon to get some light supervised activity in for the first time since being punched by Bobby Portis.

The glitch in that step is Mirotic was going to the Advocate Center after the team departed for Miami to start its two-game road trip, so he wouldn’t actually have to encounter the coaching staff or his teammates.

“I think it’s a big step. Niko will be in here this afternoon,” Hoiberg said. “We’re going to leave a trainer back to supervise his workouts. But it’s a good first step to get him feeling better. He’ll hopefully have good workouts; be able to do a little more every day. It’d be good to see him when we get back.”

But his intentions of wanting out of Chicago haven’t changed, as reported by NBCSportsChicago.com and other media outlets. He’s still willing to give up his no-trade clause to be traded if Portis is still around.

The Bulls picked up Portis’ option for next season a few days ago, so it’s not known if the Bulls are committed to making a deal one way or the other. Executive Vice President John Paxson said Mirotic won’t have facial surgery to repair his broken bones, so his 4-to-6-week recovery period will begin when he’s out of concussion protocol.

As for wanting to be in a Bulls uniform after that period passes, it appears to be a wait-and-see proposition as he can’t be traded until January 15 at the earliest. Either way, it leaves Hoiberg in yet another awkward position to answer questions he’s ill-equipped to answer—or questions he doesn’t have an answer for.

“Again, the important thing is Niko’s going to get back in here for the first time to get active again,” Hoiberg said. “And then that’s the next step is to get the group back together and then hopefully move on from it.”

That was an answer to a question about Portis and Mirotic being in the same room, so Hoiberg has been deflecting and will continue to deflect or defer to Paxson, especially since Paxson is much more visible publicly than he’s been in seasons past.

With things being the status quo, the same appears to be the case headed into Wednesday’s game against the Miami Heat. Jerian Grant will start at point guard, holding off Kris Dunn for the time being.

“I think the big thing is they have to bring us a defensive presence out there. They have to be able to get us into an offense,” Hoiberg said. “We try to get those guys reading situations on how teams are playing us. Every team has played us differently with different switching, with different pressure, and we have to read better the pressure releases we have out there, the switch attacks that we have and get into it quicker.”

Grant, who’s shooting 1-for-16 from 3-point range, knows Dunn is breathing down his neck, figuratively, so he’s taking the open competition personally. Miami’s Goran Dragic will provide much more of a challenge than what he sees in practice, though.

“I gotta play better, I'm not playing the way I need to play,” Grant said. “At the same time I wanna show these guys I am the guy that can hold down this spot.”

When asked to evaluate his play, Grant was pretty direct and also said Hoiberg doesn’t have to have any talks with him. He knows his numbers and the expectations.

“Just not making shots. As far as getting guys involved, defense and trying to rebound a little bit more,” he said. “But other than making shots I think I've been alright. Getting guys involved and making plays but, at the end of the day it's a shot making league and that's what I gotta do.”

Does Rodney Hood make sense for the Bulls?


Does Rodney Hood make sense for the Bulls?

New York Times veteran NBA writer Marc Stein tweeted late Friday that multiple teams were interested in fourth-year swingman Rodney Hood.

We know that the Jazz are one of the rumored teams interested in embattled forward Niko Mirotic and while it wouldn’t seem to make sense on the surface, Rodney Hood could be a good fit for the Bulls.

Hood will be a restricted free agent this summer and the Bulls would retain the rights to match any offer if they felt like the former Duke Blue Devil was the right piece to join the new core of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, and Kris Dunn.

There is one complication in a potential Mirotic for Hood deal; the salaries don’t quite match. Utah would need to send another player like Alec Burks to Chicago in the deal. The Bulls would have to be OK taking on Burks’ $11.5 million salary for the 2018-19 season and his cap hit in free agency. Good news though, the free agent class this summer is very thin at small forward, the main position the Bulls have a need for.

Another road block, the Bulls are set to max out LaVine this July, and they may be wary on tying up a good part of their cap space for the next four years on two players.

Acquiring Hood hurts the ‘tank’ but you’d have a three-month audition of a 25-year old shooter that on paper would seem to work with the current rotation. If the Bulls felt like Hood wasn’t a good fit, let him walk in free agency. They would then keep their cap space intact for the 2019 super free agent class.

Bulls thankful Kris Dunn's injury wasn't worse; Zach LaVine cleared for extended minutes

Bulls thankful Kris Dunn's injury wasn't worse; Zach LaVine cleared for extended minutes

The fall was nasty and the concussion was substantial for Kris Dunn. But at second blush the Bulls are thankful it wasn’t worse.

Given the way his body jerked after Dunn released himself from the rim, the Bulls are glad he didn’t suffer a neck injury in addition to the concussion and dislocated front teeth.

“It could have been a major, major injury,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Obviously, it is a significant one with the concussion. You can't take these things lightly, but with the way that he fell and hit head first, we're really thankful that he'll be back hopefully before too long. But obviously we'll take things very cautiously, a cautious approach with this because of how significant concussions are. But hopefully we'll get him back soon.”

Dunn has braces on the front teeth to stabilize them, and Hoiberg said he’ll see the doctor every day over the next several days, per the league's concussion protocol. There’s a chance Dunn could join the Bulls on the three-game road trip, but he’ll miss at least Saturday’s game in Atlanta. The Bulls travel to New Orleans on Monday and Philadelphia on Wednesday.

It’s the second freak injury Dunn has suffered this season, in addition to dislocating his finger in the preseason. He struggled with it initially upon returning but recently had shown no signs of issues with it.

Dealing with a concussion and also a mouth injury makes things more complicated as far as his playing style. He plays aggressive and fast, bordering on recklessness occasionally.

Hoiberg doesn’t believe that will change when Dunn returns.

“I don't think it's going to change the way Kris plays,” Hoiberg said. “Obviously it was very unfortunate in the timing because he had a couple of really good plays there to get things really turned in our favor and get the momentum going down the stretch and they get a called timeout and get a layup out of it right away. Then we still had our chances late in that game. Kris was responsible as anybody for getting that game to striking distance. Unfortunately, we just couldn't make the plays we needed to to get the win.”

The more conservative style of Jerian Grant will take over in Dunn’s absence. Grant has been steady as a backup, averaging 7.6 points and 4.6 assists. Unlike Dunn, though, Grant hasn’t had issues with turnovers, at a four-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio this year.

Teams will dare Grant to beat them from the outside, as he’s missed 15 of his 16 3-point attempts this month.

“I've been here before, so I'm prepared. I've started a lot of games so far in my career, so I'm ready for it,” Grant said. “The last time I started, we got a win. I did what I had to do so I'm prepared to do whatever we need to do to get a win.”

Where Grant will receive relief is from Zach LaVine getting clearance for more minutes, as he’ll play in the fourth quarters and will have his minute-restriction increased to 24 minutes.

LaVine will likely play some point guard during stretches, and is shooting 38.5 percent from 3-point range in the small sample size of three games and 19.7 minutes.

“We're not going to overextend him right now because he's still obviously very early in the process as far as getting back on the floor and getting in game shape,” Hoiberg said. “We don't want to get him fatigued out there so we'll keep his rotation stretches short. But wee will hopefully have him available some in the fourth quarter to give us what Kris does down the stretch, who's been as good as anybody on our team as far as helping out close games.”