LAS VEGAS — In October, Bobby Portis turned down an extension with the Bulls worth nearly $50 million, believing he could get more on the open market. He didn’t get that kind of long-term deal, but he got his first big NBA contract on the opening night of free agency, signing a two-year, $31 million deal with the New York Knicks.
Portis, the No. 22 overall pick of the Bulls in the 2015 draft, had an up-and-down three and a half seasons in Chicago, showing promise as a scoring big man. He was suspended for eight games at the beginning of the 2017-18 season for throwing a punch at then-teammate Nikola Mirotic during a practice altercation. Still, Portis’ intensity and trademarked “Crazy Eyes” look made him popular among Bulls fans up until he was traded to the Wizards in February in the deadline deal that brought Otto Porter, Jr. to Chicago.
NBC Sports Chicago caught up with Portis at Summer League to discuss his new deal with the Knicks and his impressions of the Bulls’ future outlook.
Q: When did you first find out the Knicks were interested in you?
BOBBY PORTIS: During the year a little bit, my agent told me some things about it, and asked me how I’d feel about being a Knick. I thought he was just talking a little bit. But then as the summer progressed, things started ramping up. I’m happy about the situation I’m in.
Q: The Knicks were obviously going after the big names like Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, but this is a young team you’re joining. What excites you about this situation?
BP: I think our team knows what we are. We’re a bunch of guys that’s always picked last. A bunch of guys that always go out there with a chip on our shoulder and play with an underdog mentality. I think our team knows exactly who we are and what our identity is, and we’re going to go out there and play like it. Obviously, every team wants Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. If any one of these teams has a chance to sign one of these guys, they’ll do it. But players go where they want to go when they’re unrestricted. We’re happy that we’re with this team.
Q: Have you gotten a chance to watch much of [Knicks No. 3 overall pick] R.J. Barrett? What do you think of his game?
BP: I saw him a lot at Duke. Obviously I watched a lot of Duke basketball with him and Zion [Williamson]. Really entertaining to watch. He’s a highly competitive player. He goes out there and plays with an edge. He has swagger, too. He’s very confident in his game. He’s going to be a great player.
Q: How long have you known Daniel Gafford? Did you have a relationship before he was drafted by the Bulls, with both of you being from Arkansas?
BP: I was in high school, and I always used to hear about this kid named Daniel Gafford. They always compared him to me and said he wanted to be like me. He wore the same number as me, wore a headband just like me. When I stopped wearing the headband and started wearing the sleeve, he started wearing the sleeve, too. He did everything like me. He’s a freak athlete. I think he showed what he can do last night for the whole world to see. He’s going to have a good career.
Q: Did you see a lot of your game in him when you first met him?
BP: Nah. When I first met him, he was just a big-time rebounder and a putback guy. He blocked a lot of shots. He kind of still has the same game that he had back then. I don’t think anybody really knew he’d be an NBA player. But that’s a testament to his hard work and how much he’s dedicated to his craft.
Q: What were your impressions of Tomas Satoransky when you played with him in Washington? How do you think he’ll fit with this Bulls team?
BP: I think he fits right into what they want to do. Coach Boylen is all about toughness, and he’s a tough guy. He’s a competitor. He plays with an edge. He goes out there and plays hard. He defends. He does all the little things that aren’t on the box score. You can count on him every night.
Q: Have you talked to Boylen since you left the Bulls?
BP: Yeah, I talked to him after I got traded. I texted him when he got his extension and congratulated him. It’s really cool to see a coach who’s that dedicated to his craft. He watches tons of film, gets to the gym early, stays late. It’s cool to see a guy who comes from the film room to being a head coach now.
Q: Do you think people had him wrong during some of the drama this season after he took over as head coach, when it seemed like he had lost control of the team?
BP: He never lost control of the team. When there’s a new authority, it’s kind of hard to trust him early. The guys were so used to Fred and how he was, the plays he ran, the things he instilled in us. So it can look different for the first couple of weeks when he got in there, and guys had to get adjusted to it. He had different plays he wanted us to run, so we were trying to figure that out. It’s a lot to intake during the season. It’s easy when there’s less going in the summer and you have time to go through the plays and find the camaraderie and the chemistry because there weren’t any games. We had to learn things on the fly. We learn some plays and then we have a game the next day and a game in two days. It was tough early on. But as the season progressed, we all warmed up to him. He’s a good coach.
Q: Which of your old Bulls teammates are you still close with?
BP: I talk to those guys every day. Those are some of my best friends. Antonio Blakeney, everyone knows how close we are. And then me and Zach [LaVine] got really cool over the years. I talk to Wendell [Carter] almost every day. That’s like my little brother.