By Cody Westerlund–
CHICAGO (670 The Score) — Bulls center Robin Lopez, a 10-year NBA veteran, has responded to one of the toughest situations of his professional career with professionalism and another one of his hallmark traits.
Benched for a significant chunk of upcoming games and not even dressing against the 76ers on Thursday evening as the Bulls turn their attention to evaluating younger players, Lopez projected an understanding of the rebuilding organization’s situation and how he fits in with the help of jokes.
“Hopefully I won’t get as many technicals,” he said.
And how’s his relationship with the Bulls now?
“It seems like they still like me,” Lopez said. “How could they not?”
The Bulls have certainly been appreciative of Lopez’s professionalism. After the final game before the All-Star break, executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson informed Lopez that the Bulls would be sitting him — along with veteran wing Justin Holiday — in the name of opening up minutes for big men Cris Felicio and Noah Vonleh. Felicio will start Thursday, while Vonleh enters the rotation off the bench.
Lopez admitted he was a little surprised but didn’t raise any issues. Asked if he wished he’d been dealt at the Feb. 8 trade deadline if he knew this was coming, he responded, “I don’t know about that.” He responded “that still seems to far away to me right now” when asked if he’d consider demanding a trade this summer.
While being honest, he maintained everything could go back to normal in time with no hard feelings. He’s under contract through the 2018-’19 season.
“It was rough for me,” Lopez said. “I get it. I understand it. I always want to be out there playing on the court. It’s what I enjoy, especially playing with these guys. But I’m excited to watch these guys give it a go, from the bench.
“I’ve just kind of approached it as it’s nothing that I can control. I’m going to support my teammates.”
Lopez is averaging a career-high 12.3 points and had started all 57 games. His aim had been to start all 82, an ironman feat of sorts. He won’t accomplish that.
Lopez was asked how disappointed to fall short of that goal, and his answer was reflective of his team-first attitude, as he didn’t stay on the topic long.
“A little bit,” Lopez said. “I suppose that’s a little selfish of me, but a little bit. I looked in my closet today and thought I would have a glut of jackets. And I only found two. I didn’t realize this was an issue until about five minutes before I had to leave. So I got kind of a ragtag outfit for tonight, but hopefully I’ll be better prepared in the games to come.”
Lopez isn’t sure how long he’ll be sitting. He and the team have only said it will be for a “block of games,” but it’s long enough that Lopez plans to go shopping for new jackets in case he stays on the inactive list and doesn’t dress. And given the Bulls’ desire for a high draft pick come June, sitting veterans to lose more games and amass more ping-pong balls could have great staying power.
Of course, there’s a word for that in NBA circles — tanking. Not that the light-hearted Lopez would ever let on.
“I’m not familiar with military artillery,” he said.
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for 670TheScore.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.