Bulls: Nikola Mirotic will dress and likely play vs. Rockets


Bulls: Nikola Mirotic will dress and likely play vs. Rockets

The Bulls are as close to full strength as they’ve been in three months with Jimmy Butler returning to the lineup, and as a late surprise, Nikola Mirotic will be available for Saturday’s game against the Houston Rockets.

Mirotic missed the last 16 games with appendicitis and a hematoma removal, but after being announced as “close” and not ruled out by Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg, his availability was let out 90 minutes before gametime.

Mirotic will be on a minute restriction as he works on getting his strength back, having lost around 18 pounds and trying to gain it back after complications from the surgeries.

“You know what, Niko is gonna give it a go,” Hoiberg said. “He’ll dress, he’ll be available, he’ll be on a limit. But he made it full contact practice yesterday and the medical staff is comfortable with him being in uniform.”

Mirotic going through contact practices and even taking charges during the 5-on-5 scrimmages has given the medical staff and coaching staff confidence he can play, adding much-needed depth to a team that’s been depleted of that and spirit through this recent 8-18 stretch.

The Bulls have plummeted to ninth in the Eastern Conference with 22 games left.

“It’s, again, we’ll have to keep close eye based on his conditioning,” Hoiberg said. “But as far as how his stomach is feeling, the incision on where he had the second surgery, he feels good enough to go out and give it a try and the doctors are comfortable with it.”

[MORE: Fred Hoiberg banking on culture change with Butler's return]

Mirotic last played Jan. 25 and although he’s struggled most of this season, he was beginning to show some signs, scoring 15 and 17 in his last two outings before having to undergo the first of two procedures.

With Mirotic and Butler back, along with the continued presence of Mike Dunleavy, the Bulls are able to see a little light at end of the tunnel—because they’re fighting for their postseason lives in the last six weeks.

Butler’s return has seemingly sent a jolt into the team—either that or its desperation, as his left knee strain kept him out since the beginning of February.

“It feels good,” Hoiberg said. “Just gotta get those guys integrated in how we’re trying to play. Practice was as good as we’ve had in a month or so. He’s shot energy right into our group and that’s how we’ll play. He’ll bring guys along. He can defend the elite guys in our league.”

Even with unproven wing depth, Bulls will monitor Otto Porter Jr.'s workload

Even with unproven wing depth, Bulls will monitor Otto Porter Jr.'s workload

As the Bulls played out the string last season, fielding glorified G League lineups, meaningful days still existed.

April 3 was one of them.

Not only did the Bulls scratch out a fun, one-point road victory over the Wizards, executive vice president John Paxson, coach Jim Boylen and general manager Gar Forman met with Otto Porter Jr. and his longtime strength coach from his alma mater of Georgetown.

That meeting mapped out Porter’s offseason plan and began the strong communication that continued Friday when Boylen and Porter met to discuss the organization’s approach for a proper workload for the crucial veteran. Following Sunday’s practice at the Advocate Center, Boylen for the first time publicly disclosed the Bulls’ plan to play Porter in the neighborhood of 30 minutes and approach back-to-back games on a case-by-case basis.

“We will manage him appropriately,” Boylen said. “He will not play over 30 minutes in anything we do to get going here. We’ll manage him on the off days in a real respectful way. Obviously, he’s a big piece. He’s our starting 3, a big wing. And we need him.”

The Bulls have a set of back-to-back games in this first week of the regular season, with their home opener against the defending NBA champion Raptors coming Saturday following a game at the Grizzlies Friday.

“We’ll see how he feels,” Boylen said. “It might be a situation where we manage him the first night in order to play him the second night. Or manage him the first night and the second night he feels maybe a night he doesn’t play. But we have a plan. It’s rough because it’s depending on how he feels.”

Right now, Porter feels good.

“Preseason has been great, making sure my body is healthy, making sure I get my reps in, making sure as a team we’re ready to go,” Porter said following practice. “I’ll hold it down for us until we get Chandler (Hutchison) back. That’s going to be always my job.

“But we got a lot of guards that can play the three too. We got a lot of guys that can play multiple positions. If somebody goes down, the next man always got to step up and replace – not replace but do more – and I feel like everybody is going to do more.”

Hutchison has yet to play with a hamstring injury. Shaq Harrison missed all five preseason games but is available for Wednesday’s opener in Charlotte, N.C.

Boylen said there are many options to keep Porter fresh even with Hutchison injured and Denzel Valentine currently out of the rotation, including Harrison or Tomas Satoransky at backup small forward and three-guard lineups. The Bulls also utilize big lineups with Thad Young at small forward.

“You’ve seen what we’ve done. We’ve had Coby (White), Arch (Ryan Arcidiacono) and (Kris) Dunn out there together. Playing small and fast is good. You can also put ‘Sato’ out there with that group,” Boylen said. “There may be opportunities where we go big depending on the situation of the game. We’ve practiced those lineups and scenarios.”

Porter played a huge role in the Bulls’ brief surge last February after arriving from the Wizards in a trade. He has battled nagging injuries in the past, including knee, shoulder and neck issues. Porter also underwent minor surgery on his left leg that knocked him out of the April 2018 playoffs to address a blood buildup around a contusion.

“Every season, there are ups and downs and teams go through it,” Porter said. “Right now, it’s a matter of depth and we want to start out fresh. You start out fresh, you’re already ahead of the game.”

Porter is encouraged by the Bulls’ offense during the preseason, including an increased emphasis on 3-point attempts.

“Right now, we might not be shooting a high percentage. But in the regular season, that number is definitely going to increase drastically because we’re practicing hard, making our open shots and just getting open looks,” Porter said. “We know what this offense can do for us.”

Bulls will sign player to 2-way contract, but NBA roster is set for now

USA Today

Bulls will sign player to 2-way contract, but NBA roster is set for now

The Bulls waived Milton Doyle, Justin Simon and Simisola Shittu Saturday, which is minor news since they were mostly camp bodies competing for possibly a two-way contract.

The bigger development is that the Bulls’ roster is basically set, pending the signing of one player to the second two-way contract still available. No Iman Shumpert. No Alfonzo McKinnie. And that’s just naming two hometown products recently linked to the Bulls via the rumor mill.

The Bulls still want to see what they have in Chandler Hutchison, who did some individual shooting Saturday but missed all training camp with a hamstring injury. Denzel Valentine, currently out of the rotation, is staying ready.

And Shaq Harrison, who missed all five preseason games with his own hamstring injury but now is fully practicing, remains a Jim Boylen favorite.

And that’s what the roster staying set for now is about as much as anything. The buy-in Boylen has received from players dating to voluntary September workouts and bonds that have formed could be disrupted by the waiving of someone like Harrison, whose contract isn’t fully guaranteed but his commitment is.

While the Bulls recognize proven wing depth is a question mark, they value Harrison’s toughness and defensive ability. If Hutchison or Harrison or Valentine---if he gets an opportunity---don’t produce, perhaps a move could be made at a later date.

But expect only the signing of a second player to a two-way contract to join Adam Mokoka for now.

“We’ve been talking about that,” Boylen said. “We’re working on that. We’ve got our list and have reached out to some people. We’re actively in process.”

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