CHICAGO – Three weeks ago, any kind of positive vibes that surrounded the Bulls in their preseason training camp were pushed aside.
Well, punched would be more specific.
A blow from the fist of Bobby Portis to the face of Nikola Mirotic knocked both of the forwards out of the lineup and brought back drama to a franchise accustomed to it as they fell from the upper eschelon of the NBA. Facial fractures put Mirotic out for a number of weeks at the least, while Portis was given an eight-game suspension for his actions.
Three weeks later, in the same place where he was supposed to begin the season on October 19th, Portis finally steps on the floor at the Air Canada Centre to face the Raptors on Tuesday night. It comes after the most bizarre stretch of his young NBA career, one in which he came to prominence in a negative light and created a fair amount of awkwardness around his team.
Yet as he returns to the lineup and Mirotic is still in the early stages of his recovery, the Bulls insist there is nothing uncomfortable about Portis making his way back onto the team.
“I know there has been some interesting situations going on but I think we’re all excited to have him back on the court,” said Robin Lopez of the forward’s return.
It won’t be in the starting lineup as it probably would have been in Toronto in the opener had Portis held his frustration back just a little bit. He’ll come off the bench to relieve Lauri Markkanen, who has excelled since moving into the starting line up in Portis’ place, averaging 16.2 points per game.
That’s the one positive from an ugly situation, one in which head coach Fred Hoiberg tried to put behind him as Portis comes back on Tuesday.
“He sat out his games, he was able to stay active and practice with us and now we’ll put him back on the floor and, again, we welcome him back,” said Hoiberg, who pointed out that playing simple with energy is the goal for Portis’ return Tuesday night and beyond.
So how is the third-year forward, who averaged 6.8 points and 4.6 rebounds a game last season handling it? Portis wasn’t made available to the media before his debut, but Lopez believes he’s put the rough recent past behind him.
“I haven’t sensed any nervousness,” said Lopez of Portis. “I’m sure there’s a little bit of nerves, a little bit of jitters, it is a bit of an interesting situation but I don’t think he’s letting that bother him.”
We’ll see if it is rather quickly when Portis finally makes his 2017-2018 season debut.