By Cody Westerlund–
CHICAGO (CBS) – As Bulls practice concluded Sunday afternoon at the Advocate Center, rookie Bobby Portis engaged in a rotating game of one-on-one-on-one with teammates Aaron Brooks and Tony Snell.READ MORE: Fourth Stimulus Check: Is Another Relief Payment Coming?
Portis brought to this game the intensity that teammates have praised him for displaying since the start of training camp. There was hooting. There was hollering. There were step-throughs and stepbacks.
There was ball spiking in frustration and star teammate Jimmy Butler incredulous over the lack of a travel call. And there was a champion on this day.
“Tony Snell won the series,” Portis said. “It was a tough day for me. I only got one win, so it was hard.”
Portis admits there have been many tough days in his young professional career, for he’s spending much of it watching and waiting, an idle role the turbo-charged 6-foot-11 forward isn’t accustomed to.
An Arkansas product who was the 22nd overall pick in last June’s draft who was stellar in the preseason, Portis has logged just 22 minutes and three appearances in Chicago’s first 17 games. He’s played just two minutes since Nov. 9, including a stretch of eight “DNP – Coaches’ Decision” in the past nine games.
“It’s been real difficult for me,” Portis said. “You know, coming from (being an) All-American last year to on the bench, it’s kind of tough. At the same time, I’m just trying to jell with my guys and try to be the best teammates possible. On the sideline, I’m still cheering, happy that we’re winning. Right now, like I’ve always said, it’s not about me right now. It’s about the team. I’m just trying to be the best teammate possible.”
With a Bulls roster that’s a carbon copy of the 2014-’15 squad save for himself, Portis is both the newest character and the biggest character on the team. He routinely uses the third person when speaking with reporters, and the conviction and easiness that he does it with can’t help but make one chuckle.
For a player with seven career field goals and 14 points who’s the fifth man in a four-member post rotation behind Pau Gasol, Nikola Mirotic, Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah, his confidence is unwavering.
“I’ve been sitting there waiting and waiting,” Portis said. “Once the time comes, I’ll show the world what Bobby Portis can do.”READ MORE: Man Shot In Attempted Robbery In The West Loop Neighborhood
Portis spends most of game nights waving towels and celebrating with vigor on the sidelines. When he’ll log some playing time of significance – every minute Portis has played this season has been in garbage time – is anyone’s guess, but outsiders have increasingly surmised that his relentless energy could help a team that’s too often stagnant.
Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg considered using Portis on Wednesday against the Nuggets after Mirotic suffered a concussion, then decided against it. Hoiberg has spoken highly of Portis, but he’s made given no firm commitment to getting Portis on the floor.
“Actually, he talked to me today,” Portis said of Hoiberg. “He told me to stay ready. He likes the things that I’m doing. I come here every day with a positive attitude. I don’t complain about me not playing. I try to bring positive energy on the bench, in practice and even on the road. I just try to be myself.”
When discussing Portis, Hoiberg’s fond of using words or phrases such as “probably” and “likely” and “when his time comes.”
“He’s very active and engaged,” Hoiberg said Sunday. “He pushes the heck out of our guys in practice. A great attitude, great spirit. He’s doing all the things he has to do to keep himself ready for when that time comes and his name is called, which again, will happen at some point this season and most likely sometime soon.
“He’ll play important minutes this year. There’s no doubt about that. He knows he’s got to be patient, we talk about it, but he’ll be ready when his name is called. I’m confident.”
To all this, Portis displays good humor. “No doubt,” he said when asked if he’d welcome a D-League assignment for some playing time, before raving about the reps it would provide, another nod to his itch to play. As Portis concluded his interview session, a reporter made a “Free Bobby Portis” reference, a nod to the social media bit to get Portis playing time.
Without missing a beat, Portis responded.
“Free Bobby Portis,” Portis said jokingly, his third third-person reference in the past 5 minutes, 46 seconds.MORE NEWS: Woman Dead After Dragging Officer With Car Before Crashing Into Business In Dolton; Shots Fired By Police
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for CBSChicago.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.