Bulls

Mirotic responds to chiding from teammates in Bulls rout

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Mirotic responds to chiding from teammates in Bulls rout

BROOKLYN -- Being a brainless player can be a compliment or put-down depending on its context, considering it keeps some players glued to the bench when coaches can’t trust their instincts.

For Nikola Mirotic, he’s being urged to turn the brain off and just play, receiving some extra prodding from the man who’ll likely benefit from his mere presence on the floor, Derrick Rose.

“I hate when he hesitates. Hate when he hesitates,” Rose repeated for emphasis after the Bulls’ blowout win over the Brooklyn Nets, where they clinched homecourt advantage for the first-round series that starts this weekend.

Mirotic found himself open on a few occasions and didn’t feel comfortable letting loose early. Perhaps the thought of being unselfish was in his head but when the decision was made to flip the switch to “off”, that’s when
Mirotic got off and earned the admiration of a 50-50 crowd at Barclays Center Monday night.

“In the first half, they (teammates) were telling me, ‘Niko, don’t think, just shoot the ball. You’re wide open. Don’t pump fake’,” Mirotic said.

[MORE: Sharing is caring as the Bulls dismantle Nets in Brooklyn]

He was. The Nets defense couldn’t keep up with the Bulls’ ball movement and while trying to keep a handle on the Bulls’ guard penetration, left a gaping hole on the perimeter in the form of Mirotic.

“Gotta shoot. Gotta shoot,” Rose said. “That’s the way the offense is, If you’re open three times, if the game is telling you to shoot, we’re not gonna get mad. Shoot the ball.”

The game dictated that shots were given to Mirotic and finally, he accepted the challenge in the third quarter, hitting three straight to finish the period—only missing a corner triple at the buzzer.

“They’re right. I just need to shoot because when I think, I miss the shot,” Mirotic said. “So when I don’t think, I make the shot. I made the first one, the second one and there you go, keep shooting.”

Mirotic led the Bulls with 26 on the evening, hitting six of his eight field goals from long range. Considering he came from overseas with such a well-earned reputation as a shooter, hitting 31 percent from three seems a little puzzling on its face.

But he had the ability to create more overseas, and now he’s just getting used to recognizing when he’s open on the catch, and just letting it fly. Chances are, he’s heard you yelling at your screen when he hesitates in such matters.

“The shots were more handoffs, and like catch and shoot,” Mirotic said. “The movement sometimes being gone, so they’re not easy shots. But when you start making shots I’m making, they start learning me, start to play better defense on me. It’s not easy.”

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Buy a Nikola Mirotic jersey here]

After having the freedom to create when Rose was out with injury, he’ll have fewer of those opportunities en masse—but with Rose on the floor, they open things up for each other. Rose found driving lanes that hadn’t been available in the past two games, which he’s attributed to playing more with Mirotic.

“I want to play with him a little bit more,” Rose said. “But the people I’ve been playng with, Taj (Gibson) Pau (Gasol), (Joakim Noah), I think we’ve done a great job. With Niko on the floor it’s another dimension, the way he spaces the floor. “

And now as the league has started to zero in on what Mirotic likes to do, he’ll have to ramp up the intensity for the upcoming postseason—while turning down the volume in his head.

“It’s normal, a really big adjustment. A lot of ups and downs,” said Mirotic of his fluctuating confidence. “I’m working hard the last part of the season. I’m working hard to prepare myself for the playoffs. Sometimes I play more, sometimes I play less. The chance is here so you have to play your part.”

2018-19 NBA Power Rankings: Opening Week edition

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USA TODAY

2018-19 NBA Power Rankings: Opening Week edition

The theme of the 2018-19 NBA season will be: “old faces in new places”. Like a season-long game of the NBA on TNT crew’s “Who he play for?” game, this year will be about fans trying to get used to the idea of LeBron James in purple (I won’t call it ‘Forum Blue’)-and-gold, DeMarcus Cousins being on a championship-contending franchise and Kawhi Leonard being the new face of Toronto.

The Warriors are still the easy favorite to make it four NBA championships in five years, but they will be tested perhaps more than any year before in a loaded Western Conference, where even the lowliest of teams (here’s to you Phoenix and Memphis!) made solid offseason moves geared towards winning games.

Over in the now-LeBron-less East, there is hope amongst at least four-to-five teams that they could actually have a shot to win the conference. The Pacers still have budding superstar Victor Oladipo, the Sixers still have Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, and the Raptors and Bucks made head coaching changes that could lead to deep playoff runs. But with the rest of the Eastern conference being stuck between lottery contention and middle of the pack, expect the half-experienced, half-youthful Celtics to takeover as East juggernaut.

But whether or not your favorite franchise is aiming for a high draft pick or a postseason berth, there is tons to be excited in a 2018-19 NBA season that will surely be an intriguing one. Check out Week 1 of our NBA Power Rankings right here.

Deadline passes as Bulls, Bobby Portis fail to reach agreement on contract extension

Deadline passes as Bulls, Bobby Portis fail to reach agreement on contract extension

The Bulls and Bobby Portis were unable to reach an agreement on a contract extension by today’s deadline, which will make the power forward a restricted free agent next offseason.

According to The Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson, Portis’ agent Mark Bartelstein and Gar Forman had “lengthy face-to-face negotiations” on Monday prior to the deadline. The two sides weren’t able to come to an agreement.

The negotiations – and lack of a deal – come after a summer and training camp in which Portis continued to show progression. After beginning the preseason coming off the bench Portis quickly played his way into the starting lineup alongside rookie Wendell Carter Jr. Portis finished five preseason games averaging 17.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.2 steals in just 22.4 minutes.

Portis, the 22nd pick of the 2015 NBA Draft, has seen his role increase each of his three seasons. He made a jump last season in Year 3, averaging 13.2 points and 6.8 rebounds in 22.5 minutes. He was one of three players, including DeMarcus Cousins and Kevin Love, to average 21 points, 10 rebounds and 1.5 3-pointers per 36 minutes.

Though the Bulls certainly had the room to sign Portis to an extension, there were obvious reasons on both sides to wait on a deal. For starters, the Bulls will still be able to match any deal Portis receives in free agency next July, much like what happened with Zach LaVine and the Sacramento Kings. The Bulls maintain their abundance of cap space for the 2019 offseason, when they’ll be able to offer a max contract to the top-tier free agents, and they get to see if Portis makes another jump.

For Portis, it’s a case of him betting on himself. If the Bulls came in with a number he wasn’t satisfied with – to help keep their max cap space – he now finds himself on a contract year playing for his next contract. Still only 23 years old, Portis should cash in in July.

Two players from Portis’ draft class were able to cash in. Pacers center Myles Turner signed a reported four-year, $80 million extension and Cavaliers forward Larry Nance Jr. agreed to a four-year, $45 million deal. Portis likely would have fallen somewhere in between those two deals had an agreement occurred.

The Bulls are hardly in an easy situation with Portis. Though they value the versatile power forward, Lauri Markkanen is entrenched at the position for the foreseeable future and the team just spent last year’s No. 7 overall pick on center Wendell Carter Jr. Portis realistically is stuck behind both those players, though he certainly has starting level NBA talent.