Bulls Executive Vice President John Paxson addressed the media Friday at the team’s practice, in light of the new developments surrounding Nikola Mirotic’s trade request.
Still recovering from the effects of a concussion and broken facial bones at the hands of teammate Bobby Portis, there appears to be a disconnect between Mirotic and the team — hence the trade request that Paxson would neither confirm nor deny.
But the mere fact Paxson came over to speak to the media confirms things are reaching critical mass and he admits there are no easy answers.
“We’re really sensitive to this entire issue and what Niko is going through physically and mentally,” Paxson said. “We’re trying to be sensitive to him. We don’t have all the answers today. But just like in anything, as an organization we have to do what’s in our best interests. That’s the bottom line. And so we will.”
Mirotic has a no-trade clause but is willing to waive it in order to leave Chicago — or more directly the specter of having to be in the same locker room as Portis. With the situation being so public, it’s hard to see the Bulls rushing to make a deal involving either player, even with the rise of rookie Lauri Markkanen lessening the necessity for both.
It’s harder to see a team offering an asset to the Bulls’ liking and opposing teams are doing background work on Portis to see what he’s like in the locker room, sources tell NBCSportsChicago.com.
Although the Bulls would like this to be wrapped up in a neat bow, there’s no smooth transition and any solution will be messy.
“We have to operate ... today is the day we’re going to try to move this forward a little bit,” Paxson said. “Niko has the opportunity to do some light physical work. We need to have him do that under our supervision. We’re going to go day to day with it.”
Portis is practicing through his eight-game suspension while Mirotic will be out an additional four-to-six weeks once he clears concussion protocol.
There’s a thought from Mirotic’s camp the Bulls were too light with Portis but Paxson said there wasn’t any guidelines for a suspension.
“There’s always two sides,” Paxson said. “In doling out the punishment to Bobby, that’s fairly unprecedented too what we did. Like I told you last week, we consulted with the league to make sure we were going about it the right way.
“We’re confident with what we did. I’ve never been in Niko’s position where something like that happens. We are trying to understand it and work with him and his people. But we can’t just do something for the sake of doing it. It has to be in our best interest too.”
Teammates have reached out to Mirotic but aside from Robin Lopez and a couple others including coach Fred Hoiberg, he appears to be distant as a whole. He does communicate with the medical staff but has come to the Advocate Center during off hours as opposed to when the team is in the building.
“The biggest focus that I need to have right now is to worry about getting our guys to continue to grow as a basketball team,” Hoiberg said. “The players are doing a really good job of focusing on the task at hand, and they’re doing everything we’ve been asking them to do.”
With this being such a young team dealing with drama the franchise should be more proactive as opposed to letting things settle itself.
“I don’t have that answer right now. I really don’t,” Paxson said. “Your hope is that as time goes on, there can be some communication where it gets resolved. But this is a unique situation. It really is.”
When Paxson was asked if the Bulls should facilitate communication and get Mirotic and Portis in a room, he said, “we’re not there yet”.
“But we’re supportive of Niko and what he’s going through,” Paxson said. “We support Bobby too. He’s a part of our team. You sit here in my position, Gar’s position, ownership’s position and you see it’s a distraction. But we also have to keep these young guys focused on what they’re doing.”
What makes matters more complicated is Mirotic isn’t even eligible to be traded until mid-January so even if he is to be moved it can’t happen for at least two and a half months.
Hence, Paxson admitting there aren’t any easy answers.
“We have to be patient. It’s not something that’s going to be resolved overnight,” Paxson said. “We’re going to continue to communicate with Niko and his representatives and find our way through this. It’s very important for us to do what’s in our best interest.”
Paxson reiterated the franchise is sensitive to Mirotic’s circumstance, being punched by a teammate and the damage it caused, while adding Mirotic has been cleared for light supervised activity such as bike riding.
Paxson said he hopes to see Mirotic around soon but added, “We’re trying to be sensitive to his feelings and what he has expressed to us.”
And Mirotic has made it known the status quo will not do, as Paxson said they won’t force Mirotic one way or another, even as Mirotic is trying to force movement of some kind.
“I think we’re going to follow his lead right now,” Paxson said.