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.”

Bulls Talk Podcast: The ultimate Bulls briefing to get you ready for Opening Night


Bulls Talk Podcast: The ultimate Bulls briefing to get you ready for Opening Night

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski sits down with Kendall Gill and Will Perdue to discuss all the need-to-know topics to get you ready for the season opener. The guys analyze how Lauri’s injury will make its mark on the early season rotation, whether Jabari will return to the starting unit or embrace the 6th-man role and why Portis betting on himself is the right move. Plus, Kendall has the key to unlock a “6th Man of the Year” award for Portis this season.

Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below:

'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."