Bulls: Bobby Portis waiting for his time, embracing current role


Bulls: Bobby Portis waiting for his time, embracing current role

The night Bobby Portis was drafted he knew playing time would be at a premium in his rookie season.

Portis, the second team All-American his sophomore year at Arkansas, slipped to No. 22 at draft night, with the Bulls scooping up the best player available expected by many to be taken in the lottery.

The Bulls had a need at point guard behind Derrick Rose and could have added a wing to complement Tony Snell and Doug McDermott, but instead they drafted with an eye toward the future and added to their already loaded frontcourt, perhaps the deepest in the league.

There was optimism that Portis was ready for the big stage when he averaged 14.5 points and 8.7 rebounds in the Las Vegas Summer League, and he performed well in seven preseason games, averaging 11.1 points and 9.1 rebounds.

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But the regular season was a different story. Portis has appeared in just three games, totaling 22 minutes. The Bulls' frontcourt quartet of Pau Gasol, Nikola Mirotic, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson have combined to miss just one game, with Noah sitting out a game in Philadelphia last month.

"Once I got drafted I kind of knew. It’s not that hard to tell," Portis said of his expected playing time. "They’ve been here longer than I have and obviously I’m a rookie so I have to play to my role and my role is to be a positive guy on the bench and cheer for my teammates and be the best teammate possible.

"My role is not to play right now. I’m cool with waiting on my turn and once my turn comes then I’ll be the Bobby Portis I’ve always been."

He made his NBA debut in the Bulls' blowout loss to the Hornets in November, scoring 10 points on 5-for-7 shooting in the fourth quarter. When Noah sat out in Philadelphia, Portis saw his first first-half action, scoring two points in 10 minutes.

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And though his playing time has been minuscule, head coach Fred Hoiberg has constantly applauded Portis' work ethic and attitude, where he "pushes the heck out of our guys in practice."

"He’s a great attitude, great spirit, he’s doing all the things that he has to do to keep himself ready for when that time comes that his name is called," Hoiberg added, "which again will happen sometime this season and most likely sometime soon."

Portis has admitted frustration at not playing a year after he averaged 29.9 minutes per game for the Razorbacks. But the same veterans playing ahead of him also have been the ones in his ear, telling him to be ready whenever his number is called.

"(Joakim Noah) and Taj (Gibson) always tell me that their rookie years they were siting on the bench and something happened, someone got traded or injured and then they started playing," Portis said. "So they told me to stay ready because things happen in this league that are crazy and things can change easily."

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Portis has filled the void of not playing by participating in 1-on-1 and 2-on-2 drills after practice against teammates. And while he'd like to be playing, with the Bulls' frontcourt playing well and the team sitting at 11-7, just a half game out of the top seed in the East, Portis is taking his role in stride.

"(Hoiberg) actually talked to me today, told me to stay ready. He likes the things that I’m doing," Portis said. I come here every day with a positive attitude. I don’t complain about me not playing. I just try to bring positive energy on the bench, in practice and even on the road. I just try to be myself.

"Like I’ve always said, it’s not about me right now. It’s about the team. I’m just trying to be the best teammate possible."

Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment


Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment

There were no Lakers or Clippers in the 2018 All-Star Game, but Los Angeles was well-represented with plenty of homegrown talent, plenty of historians with Los Angeles ties and all the pageantry L.A. can provide.

Russell Westbrook, Paul George and James Harden are among the All-Stars who came home to put on the biggest show of entertainment the league has to offer, and the new format featuring captains LeBron James and Stephen Curry produced one of the most competitive finishes in recent All-Star history as the spectacle wasn’t lost on DeRozan, who plays for the conference-leading Toronto Raptors.

“It was a dream come true,” DeRozan said. “I’ll forever be a part of this, and to come out and be a starter in my hometown, it was a dream come true.”

With Chicago hosting the event in 2020, one wonders if the city or the Bulls will be as represented.

“What better time to do it than in Chicago?” Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen said about his aspirations of being an All-Star sooner rather than later.

New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, to this point, is the only Chicagoan carrying the torch as an All-Star. For years, Chicago could claim their homegrown talent rivaled the likes of Los Angeles and New York, the self-proclaimed “Mecca”.

But now they’ve fallen behind in the way of star power, as Derrick Rose has gone from MVP to one of the biggest “what if” stories in modern-day sports. Jabari Parker was expected to be next in line but his future as a star is murky due to the same dreaded injury bug.

“I didn’t know that. But there’s a lot of great players (from Chicago),” Davis said Saturday during media availability. “Jabari is just coming back, Derrick is going through what he’s going through. That’s fine. D-Wade is getting older. We have a lot of great guys. Guys have been hurt, in D-Wade’s case he’s just getting up there in age now (laughs).”

Davis is arguably the league’s most versatile big man, keeping the New Orleans Pelicans afloat while DeMarcus Cousins is out with an Achilles injury. He’s had to watch the likes of George deal with free agent questions about the prospect of coming home to L.A., even after he was traded from Indiana to Oklahoma City in the offseason.

It still hasn’t stopped the chants from Lakers fans, panting after George in the hope he’ll be a savior of sorts. And even though his contract isn’t up for another few seasons, teams are lining up in the hope they can acquire him through free agency or trade.

It could very well be him getting the chants when the All-Star party comes to Chicago and he could be joined by the likes of Markkanen and Zach LaVine in the big game.

LaVine was in Los Angeles for the weekend and Markkanen opened eyes around the league with his showing in the rising stars game as well as the skills challenge.

Davis could wind up being the object of everyone’s affection and could find himself being recruited by the likes of LaVine.

Even though 2021 is a long way away, a guy can dream, right?

“I mean, I’m cool with a lot of dudes in the NBA. I feel like I’m a likeable guy,” LaVine told NBCSportsChicago.com about recruiting star players to the Bulls franchise. “I can talk about situations like that, it would be my first time being put in a position. It would be a little bit different but I think I can handle it.”

LaVine has his own contract situation to take care of this summer, being a restricted free agent but understands the Bulls’ salary cap position and their long-term goals.

“Yeah I think once the offseason comes and everybody settles down, and I’m comfortable, and I know the position I’ll be in,” LaVine said to NBCSportsChicago.com.

“I think we’ll start having those conversations because we want to get the franchise back to where it was, on that high plateau. That’s what it’s supposed to be.”

“I’m trying to solidify myself in the league to a certain degree. Once you start reaching those points you can talk to anybody to get to where you want to get to.”

LaVine attended several events over the weekend and shared the same space as several All-Stars in non-media settings. It’s easy to see why he would think he could have that affect with his peers.

Being careful about the rules on tampering, he said about a potential sit-down with Davis, “I would bring some Harold’s chicken to the meeting and we’ll be all good.”

Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie


Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie

Los Angeles—Lauri Markkanen called himself “The Finnisher” when asked what the movie of his life would be called.

Apparently, that moniker didn’t apply to the All-Star Skills challenge as he took down the best big men but couldn’t close against a former Bull, Spencer Dinwiddie, in the final.

The contest highlights players’ ability to dribble around cones shaped like NBA logos, throwing a chest pass into a net while having to complete a layup and then 3-pointer before their opponent does.

Markkanen took down Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid before facing off with Dinwiddie. He held a pose after hitting a triple to beat the uber confident Embiid, in what will likely be used as a memorable gif following the weekend.

His confidence doesn’t come across as blatantly as Embiid’s, but that snapshot shows he’s no humble star in the making. He didn’t even practice for the contest, by his own admission.

“I heard some of the guys did,” Markkanen said. “I didn’t do much, just before the competition, I did a little warm-up.”

Missing on the first pass attempt into the circular net in the final, it gave Dinwiddie the advantage he wouldn’t relinquish, hitting on his second 3-point attempt before Markkanen could make it downcourt to contest.

“It’s a lot harder than I’ve seen,” Markkanen said. “I thought it was gonna be super easy but it was kind of tough. Maybe I need to hold my follow through (on the pass).”

“I saw he missed (the first shot) and I started going. I thought he would’ve missed it too. I think I would’ve gotten it on the third shot.”

Being one of the multi-dimensional big men in today’s game who can be adept on the perimeter as well as the interior, it almost seems like the contest was made for Markkanen. Although he doesn’t do much handling in Fred Hoiberg’s offense, it’s clearly a skill he will develop as time goes on.

The last two winners of the skills challenge were Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis, and Markkanen was well aware of the recent trend.

“The last two years the bigs have won,” Markkanen said. “I’m kind of pissed that I couldn’t keep the streak going after (those two). I think there’s a lot of guys who can do that now, it’s why they changed the format to bigs versus smalls.”

For Dinwiddie, who was discarded by the Bulls last season after a promising start in the preseason so they could pick up R.J. Hunter, he’s taken advantage of an opportunity with Brooklyn.

“I think for Chicago it was just another series of unfortunate events,” he said. “They were in win-now mode. I was an unproven guard on a non-guaranteed contract and they felt Michael Carter-Williams gave them a better shot to win.”