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Bulls: Masked Derrick Rose returns to practice, optimistic about opener

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Bulls: Masked Derrick Rose returns to practice, optimistic about opener

Perhaps the Elusive One, the Reclusive One should now be called the Optimistic One.

Or the Masked One.

Derrick Rose walked over confidently to the assembled media after shooting around with his newly-fitted mask at the Advocate Center and delivered his first comments since his orbital bone surgery two weeks ago, while not ruling out a debut on opening night Oct. 27.

“No pain,” Rose said. “I haven't had no pain since the first couple days after the surgery. After that, it's just getting it open, waiting for my eye to get right in the center, because it's a little bit higher than the other eye right now.”

[MORE BULLS: Until Butler and Rose succeed together, speculation will always loom]

He spoke so positively about where is now, it appears he’s made enough progress to at least be optimistic about having his name called when the Bulls take the floor against the Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers at the United Center.

“It’s whenever I can go play. I want to play. I’m anxious to play. I’m getting jittery just watching them play and the freedom we have playing,” he said. “If I’m willing to go and I know there’s nothing in my way, I’ll play.”

Despite the left eye looking like he’d been in a bout with Sugar Ray Leonard or Thomas Hearns for a few rounds, barely staying open at times, he seemed to be comfortable with the temporary reality of having accepted his left eye has gone through this type of trauma.

The dark moments, both literally and figuratively, directly after his procedure were the worst ones, but he quickly quipped with a level of humor, “I’m happy it’s not my knees.”

Referring to the knees that have often failed him and played a part in the derision he’s endured subsequently, he described the darkest—and worst moments of the last two weeks.

“Getting out of surgery. Throbbing, it felt like a blowtorch on your face,” Rose said. “Just having to stay in the house for two weeks. Felt like I was in jail or something, but just happy to be out, happy to be with my teammates, and happy to be back on the same mission previous to this [injury].”

[MORE BULLS: Hoiberg unhappy with defense, slippage shows in loss to Pistons]

Rose has spent plenty of time watching this team with his one good eye, and sees an open floor with plenty of opportunity to involve his teammates to the tune of at least seven assists per game, numbers he reached in the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons, his best as a professional.

“I’m cool with that. Whatever makes the game easy,” Rose said. “Even when I came back and practiced before training camp, I wasn’t being aggressive. I was just trying to get the feel for the offense and just get used to pushing the ball the way he wants us to push it.”

And if need be, he could play with the left eye not at maximum efficiency because a Rose with one eye is better than many with two. He hasn't yet been cleared for contact, taking things a step at a time while keeping an eye to the near future.

“I think I can. I can’t open my other eye,” Rose said. “That’s when I get double vision. But with one eye open, I think I could play pretty good.”

When asked if he ever wondered “why me?”, Rose said the temporary feeling didn’t last long, a sentiment many in the Chicago basketball community could wish they shared.

“Not at all. I will say the first day it's like that,” Rose said. “But after that, I just know there's a bigger plan. I'm doing all I can do on and off the court to try to be the best person I am and be the best athlete I can become. That's the only thing I can do. All the other things, like the injuries and all that; I'm just happy that it's not my knees. My eyes, anything else, I can deal with it. As long as it's not my legs, I'm fine.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

The film showed Taj Gibson as the culprit who hit Rose with an inadvertent elbow on the first day of training camp, the day that was supposed to signal the new beginning for the player who had a few too many new beginnings in short time.

“It comes along with it I guess. Just another cool story I can tell my son, for real,” he said.

As the swelling went down, the optimism rose even as the criticism surrounding his Media Day comments began to swell even more, as if the injury was some karmic payback for an awkwardly-placed answer.

“Everybody knows why I'm here,” Rose said. “That's why I picked this profession, just to win games no matter how we win games. It's all about winning. The No. 1 goal is to win the championship. This is my eighth year in the league. I was hoping I would win one before my eighth year, but it's all in God's plans, so just got to follow along with it and keep my goals pretty strict.”

'Underdog' Tyler Ulis will fit in just fine with these Bulls

'Underdog' Tyler Ulis will fit in just fine with these Bulls

It's been a whirlwind of a summer for point guard Tyler Ulis, but he finally feels like he's found a home. Literally.

The 5-foot-9 point guard was cut by the Suns in late June, latched on with a training camp invite by the Warriors and was subsequently waived on Friday. It was then that Ulis, working out in California, received a call from his agent. He had been claimed on waivers by the Chicago Bulls. His hometown Bulls.

"I grew up watching (the Bulls)," he said after his first practice on Tuesday. "Growing up in this city, you always want to be a Bull and you’re always willing and hoping that you’ll be here one day...I'm home now. It's a lot of fun and I'm looking forward to it."

Ulis is back in Chicago for the first time since he was breaking records for Marian Catholic High School. Ulis became a five-star recruit for the Spartans and in 2014 signed on as the next point guard in the long line of successful floor generals under John Calipari and Kentucky.

Ulis backed up the Harrison twins, Andrew and Aaron, as a freshman but saw his role increase as a sophomore. He blossomed, earning Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors in the SEC. Only Anthony Davis had ever earned both honors in a single season.

He declared for the 2016 NBA Draft with hopes of becoming a first-round pick. But unlike the Calipari point guards before him, Ulis slipped all the way down to the second round before the Phoenix Suns scooped him up with the 34th pick.

"Honestly I really did think (the Bulls) were going to draft me," Ulis said on Tuesday when recalling the 2016 NBA Draft. The Bulls took Denzel Valentine with the 14th pick. "But I'm here now so that's all that matters."

In 132 games, Ulis averaged 7.6 points and 4.1 assists in 21.1 minutes. He started 58 of those games, and while his shooting left plenty to be desired he handled the offense well and brought that same pesky defense he showed off at Kentucky. It wasn't enough, even for the guard-deprived Suns. They released Ulis before free agency this summer - which ruffled the feathers of franchise guard Devin Booker - in a rather unexpected move.

"My Mom always taught me (to) never expect anything," Ulis said of his release from the Suns. "When you're on a losing team like that anything can happen. I feel like I showed I could play at this level but they went a different way."

The Suns' loss - they may resort to starting 38-year-old Jamal Crawford at point guard this year - could be the Bulls' gain. Expectations should be harnessed for Ulis, especially with him joining the roster this late in the preseason, but the Bulls, like Phoenix, have question marks at the point.

Kris Dunn is entrenched as the starter, but Cameron Payne struggled mightily in the preseason and Ryan Arcidiacono doesn't project as a contributor. That leaves an opening for Ulis to potentially fill on the second unit, and apparently he's making a statement early in practice.

"Tyler had a real good practice," Fred Hoiberg said. "I think I think he changes the pace when he’s out there on the floor. He picks up full-court, he gets up underneath you. He can make a shot. He’s got good vision and can make a play with the ball in his hand. So I was very impressed with his first workout."

Ulis is working on a 45-day two-way contract, so it's unknown how much he'll contribute. He could be shuttled back and forth between Chicago and the Windy City Bulls, but there's certainly an opportunity for him to stick. He'll be playing catch-up and learning on the go, but doing so in his hometown wth friends and family around him for support will work to his advantage.

"Being a smaller guard growing up in a big man’s sport, you get looked over. So I’m the underdog," he said. "And I feel like this team is an underdog, so we should all be excited to get the season started and prove people wrong."

Bulls, Bobby Portis value each other greatly despite no deal getting done

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USA TODAY

Bulls, Bobby Portis value each other greatly despite no deal getting done

Monday's deadline came and went with expected results: Bobby Portis and the Bulls being unable to reach an agreement on a contract extension.

Some 19 hours later all parties involved said the right things, that they value one another and hope to be working together long-term.

But all that will be shelved until July 1, when Portis enters restricted free agency at this coming season's end. The two sides found themselves in position to wait out on an extension.

For Portis, he's improved his game each of his first three seasons in the league posted per-36 numbers on par with some of the game's best big men. Expected to start while Lauri Markkanen recovers from a sprained elbow - and then act as the team's Sixth Man after that - Portis is in line to post career numbers once again.

For the Bulls, nearly all their front office decisions the past three seasons have been with an eye toward the 2019 offseason and having as much cap space as possible. Waiting on a Portis contract allows them to see if any of the top free agents in the class are interested in Chicago, while also having the ability to match any deal Portis gets on the open market.

It's similar to how the Bulls played out the rookie scale contracts of both Jimmy Butler and Zach LaVine.

John Paxson spoke during Tuesday's practice at the Advocate Center and reiterated how much the Bulls value Portis and the work he's put in since they drafted him 22nd overall in 2015.

Portis also spoke with reporters after practice. And what would normally be considered posturing from any other player, Portis' blue-collar mentality was present in his comments.

"I couldn’t see myself in no other jersey. Obviously, I got Bulls DNA," he said. "Me and the city have a love connection somewhere. At the same time, I just enjoy playing for the Bulls.

"I play this game because I love it. Obviously, you want to make as much money as possible to help your family. But I started playing basketball because it’s fun to me and I loved it. I still have that same passion, that same heart every night I go out there."

Still, the opportunity will be there for Portis to make himself significant money in the coming six months. After averaging a modest 13.2 points and 6.8 rebounds in Year 3, Portis will be called upon to shoulder a scoring load in the absence of Markkanen. And with Jabari Parker's Bulls career off to a shaky start, Portis will be the go-to guy on the second unit once Markkanen is back in the lineup.

"Bobby is a guy that is very confident in himself. He’s confident in his ability. That’s what we love about him," Fred Hoiberg said. "And like I said, he’s going to go out there and play the same way every time he steps on the floor, whether it’s practice, whether it’s a pick-up game in the summer or once we get started on Thursday. He’s a warrior, and he’s just going to go out there and play the right way with great effort.’’

The Bulls will need that with the start of the regular season just two days away. They open on the road against the Philadelphia 76ers, a team that went 30-11 at home last season.

Portis will play a significant role in slowing down one of the NBA's best frontcourts. Whether or not this is his last season doing so in Chicago, he knows what the Bulls think of him and won't let the impending negotiations distract him.

"I know how much I’m valued. They tell me a lot. Give it all I got. Kind of the leader of the bunch. Blue-collar worker," he said. "Everybody respects me because I come in every day with a chip on my shoulder, try to push my guys to get better each day. That makes me go."