The sixth question on the same subject pushed Fred Hoiberg over the edge.
“Guys, I’m going to try to get our guys ready to play a game,” the Bulls coach said Tuesday.
Until Nikola Mirotic speaks to Bobby Portis — or at least to reporters to describe the obvious reasons why he won’t — the fallout of their Oct. 17 altercation will continue to threaten to overshadow games. This is, after all, a rebuilding season.
For the second straight day, Mirotic did his recovery and conditioning activities stemming from his concussion and two facial fractures from Portis’ punch while the Bulls practiced. And Mirotic again refused to talk to Portis, riding a stationary bicycle on a balcony overlooking his teammates as practice began.
It’s an unusual situation, to be sure.
“Niko has had interaction with the other players and we’ll continue to work on getting (Portis and Mirotic) together. Hopefully, that will happen soon,” Hoiberg said. “Niko is going to continue to come in here and get his work in, continue to ramp up his workload and hopefully be cleared for more on-court activity soon. But to this point, no, there’s been no communication with Bobby and Niko.”
To the players’ credit, they have remained focused on their jobs. Despite the poor won-loss record, the team’s buy-in and commitment to working hard is palpable. It’s a professional group enveloped by an unprecedented situation.
“It’s a very difficult situation. I didn’t pick up on any awkwardness,” veteran center Robin Lopez said about both players being in the same gym but not speaking. “And guys are coming in focused on basketball, focused on helping the team out as much as possible.
“Both of those guys are my guys. I have both their best interests at heart. I’m going to do what I can to help both of them. But also I have to help the team. We have to play basketball.”
Lopez said he has talked with both players “just as a friend, just as an open ear” and noticed no change in either player’s approach to their workload now that they’re in the same gym.
“I know Niko wants to be back with the guys,” Lopez said. “I know he wants to talk with the guys.”
Except, of course, Portis, whom he has told management he has no interest in playing with moving forward. Because Mirotic can’t be traded until Jan. 15, the Bulls are taking the slow-play approach, hoping time heals wounds.
“We’re working on it,” Hoiberg reiterated about a Mirotic-Portis summit. “Right now, our main focus is getting things fixed on the floor with the players we have available and hopefully get our guys to play with great effort to give ourselves a chance.”
Portis is averaging 19.3 points and 10 rebounds on 48.8 percent shooting in his first three games back from serving a team-imposed eight-game suspension for punching Mirotic.
“He has played well. He has played with effort,” Hoiberg said. “Every time Bobby steps on the floor, you know you’re going to get a guy who will leave everything he has out there. That’s what Bobby can focus on and what our team can focus on — go out and play with effort. Bobby has been a constant in that area.”
There are no constants in the fallout from the Mirotic-Portis saga, only uncertainty.
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