Bulls

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

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USA TODAY

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.”

Zach LaVine not daunted by chasing ‘Black Jesus’

Zach LaVine not daunted by chasing ‘Black Jesus’

The statue doesn’t sit out front of the United Center anymore, but the statute remains the same for any player good enough to be on the marquee for the Chicago Bulls.

Zach LaVine, while awed by the specter of Michael Jordan, isn’t spooked by chasing a ghost. Weeks away from a debut as a Bull—returning from ACL surgery—LaVine is aware of the standard set by the man who called himself “Black Jesus”.

“Black Jesus played here for so long. I’m not putting myself in that category,” LaVine said, unaware Jordan gave himself that nickname as a young player in Chicago. “He lived up to it. They (fans) want to get back to that pinnacle.”

He hears the hopes and wishes of fans when he walks off the United Center floor two hours before every home game after getting shots up as part of his rehab. LaVine knows what’s expected from him—what’s more, he expects that from himself.

He’s a two-time slam dunk champion, certainly, but the Seattle area native wants to be known as a complete player, someone a franchise can build around.

And if it’s Black Jesus’ franchise, so be it.

“You try not to let it mess with you,” LaVine said. “I feel like I’m strong minded, I’m confident in myself. Everybody is gonna have their own opinions. All that matters is how you feel about yourself.”

Not that he’s not holding himself to the standard set by the standard bearer himself, but he’s aware the responsibility that comes with playing at Jordan’s position for a franchise still largely synonymous with Jordan—even though this spring will mark 20 years since Jordan actually wore Bulls red.

“No one’s trying to compare you to him, that’s out there,” LaVine said. “You’re just trying to be the best you, coming into this situation. You have the opportunity to be the face of the franchise. To be that guy. You want to embrace that. You want everybody to know you’re prepared and capable of doing that.”

Simply being identified as a player a franchise will commit to building around as opposed to the third wheel, as he was believed to be in Minnesota behind Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, is warming for him.

Derrick Rose believed he was up for the challenge until his body betrayed him. Jimmy Butler wanted it, but the Bulls thought otherwise leading to the chain of events that brought LaVine to Chicago.

In the first season of a full-fledged rebuild, LaVine knows the prevailing belief is that the next franchise carrier is more likely in the coming draft than on the Bulls roster.

“People gonna put a name on everything. I’m gonna hoop, do what I do,” LaVine said. “I know I’m talented, I think the Bulls organization knows I’m talented. Whatever we do with the pick or free agency, that’s their side of basketball operations. I’m gonna do what I do. I put in the work.”

He’ll return to full contact practice next week and if one had to guess, finally be introduced as an active player in the middle of December once he works the kinks out and gains confidence in taking real contact.

But then again, confidence has never been a problem for LaVine. Whether it was instilled in him by a vocal father who had him chart every shot he took as a high schooler or simply innate, LaVine isn’t shying away from the challenge.

“He had a plan, for sure,” LaVine said of his father, Paul, who once played linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks. “I have binders of shots. I was doing workouts the day before games. I was doing professional workouts before (college). I embraced being a hard worker.”

Whether it’s the rehab or a road that’s had plenty of twists and turns for him to be 22, he’s experienced enough not to be naïve but young enough to have admirable wide-eyed optimism.

“You put in that much hard work, it can’t fail. It can’t.”

The Bulls first quarter was historically terrible

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USA TODAY

The Bulls first quarter was historically terrible

Rebuilds can be ugly, but the first quarter of Wednesday's Bulls-Thunder game was downright disgusting. 

The Bulls scored single digits(!) in the historically awful opening 12 minutes. Here's a closer look at the numbers: 

7 - Amount of points scored. That's the worst opening quarter in franchise history and just one point better than the worst overall quarter. 

8 - Number of turnovers, which included three shot clock violations. 

13 - The Bulls shot 13 percent from the field. Woof. 

2 - Consecutive games Fred Hoiberg's squad has trailed by 20 after the first. 

3 - Carmelo Anthony outscored the Bulls by three points in the opening quarter (10-7). 

It's safe to assume that the lineup of Jerian Grant, Kris Dunn, Quincy Pondexter, Lauri Markkanen and Robin Lopez was not ready to play.