NIKO MUST GO

De­spite his punch, team­mates side with him over Mirotic

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - JOE COWLEY

TEAM­MATES SIDE WITH POR­TIS, GIVE HIM CREDIT FOR TRY­ING TO MEND RE­LA­TION­SHIP

Ac­cord­ing to sev­eral play­ers, the ul­ti­ma­tum is­sued by Nikola Mirotic — ei­ther Bobby Por­tis goes or he goes — car­ries no weight. If any­thing, it has so­lid­i­fied Por­tis’ stand­ing with his team­mates. One Bull even said, “This is Niko’s prob­lem now.’’

Mirotic’s aver­sion arose after Por­tis punched him in the face dur­ing prac­tice Oct. 17. He was hos­pi­tal­ized with two bro­ken bones in his face and a con­cus­sion just days after be­ing named a starter over Por­tis.

Por­tis, who was sus­pended eight games, made his re­turn Tues­day in the Bulls’ 119- 114 road loss against the Rap­tors. He helped the Bulls rally from a 23- point deficit to make it a two- pos­ses­sion game late in the fourth quar­ter.

Com­ing off the bench, Por­tis had a team- high 21 points and grabbed 13 re­bounds in 24 min­utes. His per­for­mance, how­ever, had no bear­ing on his team­mates’ opin­ions.

“We know what goes on in this locker room,’’ guard Justin Hol­i­day said last week.

And that’s the prob­lem with this sit­u­a­tion. Out­siders have tried to ex­plain what should hap­pen and how the Bulls’ locker room should func­tion, for­get­ting that there’s a dif­fer­ent re­al­ity in the locker room.

To a man, the play­ers agree that Por­tis’ ac­tions were wrong. No Bull dis­putes that. But there’s a lin­ger­ing sense that Mirotic came into train­ing camp with a feel­ing of en­ti­tle­ment, which did not sit well with many of his younger team­mates.

Mirotic and Por­tis had some his­tory, so when Mirotic made an ag­gres­sive move to­ward him, Por­tis, 22, ob­vi­ously had enough. That was three weeks ago. Por­tis tried to reach out to Mirotic via text and in a mes­sage but re­ceived no re­sponse. That’s why play­ers say it’s ob­vi­ous that Mirotic, 26, has to go.

The feel­ing is Por­tis has done his part to re­pair things, and he’s seen as some­one who has put in all the work this sum­mer and is a bet­ter team­mate. Plus, he’s just more liked by his team­mates. Choos­ing

‘‘ I just want to be the best team­mate, best player pos­si­ble for the team. I’m a very en­er­getic guy, I’m a very pas­sion­ate guy and I’m a com­peti­tor, so I live by those three things, and if I’m not do­ing those, I’m do­ing my­self a [ dis­ser­vice] and my team­mates a [ dis­ser­vice].’’ — Bobby Por­tis

Mirotic over Por­tis would dis­rupt a chem­istry that has been build­ing since the front of­fice made the de­ci­sion to re­build by trad­ing Jimmy But­ler in June.

Is it fair that Mirotic seems like the odd man out un­less he changes his tune? Who said locker- room jus­tice is fair?

“I just want to be the best team­mate, best player pos­si­ble for the team,’’ Por­tis said after his sea­son de­but. “I feel like my role on this team is if the team is down, I’ve got to bring the en­ergy for us. That’s what Fred [ Hoiberg] and my team­mates ex­pect from me. I’m a very en­er­getic guy, I’m a very pas­sion­ate guy and I’m a com­peti­tor, so I live by those three things, and if I’m not do­ing those, I’m do­ing my­self a [ dis­ser­vice] and my team­mates a [ dis­ser­vice].’’

That self- as­sess­ment car­ries weight with his team­mates, who ap­pear to have taken a side in the mat­ter.

Fol­low me on Twit­ter @ sun­times_ hoops.

Nikola Mirotic’s younger team­mates be­lieve he came into train­ing camp with a sense of en­ti­tle­ment.

| GETTY IM­AGES

TOM PEN­NING­TON/ GETTY IM­AGES

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