By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) The Chicago Bulls played an extra-meaningless game in a 111-110 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Thursday night. I mean, all 82 are meaningless this season, other than angling for the most ping-pong balls next spring. The ones played this season so far, though, have been more meaningless than those soon to come.
When Nikola Mirotic returns to the rotation — and he’s begun practicing again — that’s when this will be far more interesting than the “Let’s Try To Not Get Lauri Markkanen Injured Show” that’s otherwise going on. There will be meaning then — not in much sense of the rebuild but instead of selfish schadenfreude for bitter Bulls fans who have entered a mode of spite for this franchise as it presently exists. Mirotic, he of the broken face that’s since healed, will then be dressing in the same locker room at Bobby Portis, he of the face-breaking of Mirotic.
“If I’m here, it means that my team needs me and I need my team too, to be back and play,” Mirotic said Wednesday.
That’s cute, because the Bulls can be awful with or without the Montenegrin forward. With the need to let Markkanen grow and Portis being serviceable enough, whatever Mirotic is telling himself about the Bulls needing him is about as solid as an NBA player retweeting one of those really dumb motivational athlete quote accounts.
Even though they practiced against each other this week, soon Mirotic and Portis will find themselves near one another accidentally cheering a play and being confronted with a high five situation that causes both to hesitate and ruin the moment. Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg might even have to get creative with his lineups if he feels there’s just no way to have the teammates in jersey only on the floor at the same time.
It all just needs the Curb Your Enthusiasm theme music to be perfectly, deliciously awkward.
This situation rules. Mirotic is a bust, a failure of a get by executives John Paxson and Gar Forman who then decided to re-sign him despite his value to this team on the court and in the locker room before Portis punched him already being suspect. Now the young team is poisoned by drama that’s only going to continue to rot and eventually have players taking sides, if they haven’t already.
It’s another scenario that Hoiberg can’t Ward Cleaver his way through with grown men in the 21st century. It’s this organization finding another way to set its coach up to fail, albeit inadvertently, as well as fail to cut out the entire tumor of the past few years so that a new cancer can grow within and ruin progress.
After Portis tried repeatedly to contact Mirotic to apologize without the latter accepting calls or returning texts, Mirotic “accepted” the latter’s apology through the media on Wednesday, which is about as warm as Matt Lauer’s office chair at NBC right now.
“You know, we are teammates, on the same team,” Mirotic said. “Fighting for the same team and we’re both gonna do what we need to do to make it work. Yeah, I accept it.”
That Portis hasn’t really been painted as much of a villain in all this by those in the know should give you a clue as to how “sorry” he needs to even be and that Mirotic doing the aloof silent treatment thing is the more immature response of the two. It was Mirotic who reportedly charged at Portis multiple times in the Oct. 17 practice after the two were jawing at one another, then Portis dropped Mirotic with a punch. The team also made it known that Mirotic played an aggressor’s role.
“I just want to play ball, man,” Portis said when asked about Mirotic’s comments.
Portis has done his best to be polite when asked about something he clearly doesn’t give a crap about, which is actually pretty cool, all things considered. He drank Mirotic’s milkshake and regrets nothing.
“It doesn’t matter either way,” Portis said about whether Iceman needs to tell Maverick despite being still dangerous that he can be his wingman anytime. “I just want to compete and make my team better day by day. I’ve been playing good so far this season and want to keep it rolling. No distractions needed. Just trying to lock in game by game and get better.
“I feel like my summer’s work helped me grow as a player. This is just another step in my career, me having to fight through some adversity to try to be a good player I guess.”
Punching out a teammate (probably deservedly) is just another step in his career, like a video game level. That’s pretty hardcore from Crazy Eyes. It’s definitely a way to win over Bulls fans who are fueled by spite and hate-watching this team for now.
“We’re teammates,” Portis said of the precarious relationship. “We’re both trying to help this team win as much as possible. Some teammates don’t jell off the court, but on the court they have to make ends meet for the team needs. If that’s what we have to do, that’s what we have to do.”
Translation: I’m going to be me, and if MIrotic wants to be a moody punk or try to play decent enough that an opposing team will actually want to trade for him in January, that’s on him. That that two bumped fists during Tuesday’s loss as Portis came off the court is a start, but they’re still not on speaking terms. How Mirotic handles this going forward and teammates who have had Portis’ back this whole time will likely have an effect on what has to be an eventual trade.
Mirotic wouldn’t comment Wednesday on the understanding among many that he’d like to not be on the same team much longer with Portis, regardless of how that has to happen. That will severely compromise the Bulls’ ability to package Mirotic along with a draft pick for a younger, more athletic project who becomes a G-Leaguer.
“Bobby and me and all the team is doing what we’re supposed to do, being professional,” Mirotic said. “I think so far we’re doing good. We’re in a good way.”
Yeah, a soap opera amid a manure pile of a season in a way is a good way.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.