Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic says he and Bobby Portis can coexist on the same team. In fact, it’s already happening, with Mirotic rejoining practice this week.
“We’re already playing together 5 on 5. We were on the same team the last couple days so it was all right,” he said.
Bulls game day
Bulls vs. Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center, 8 p.m. Thursday
Radio: WLS 890-AM
Outlook: At 11-9, the Nuggets are holding their own in the Western Conference despite losing PF Paul Millsap to wrist surgery. Denver is coming off an ugly 106-77 loss at Utah on Tuesday, however. C Nikola Jokic is the Nuggets’ best player, averaging a team-best 15.9 points, 11.0 rebounds and 4.6 assists. The Nuggets don’t start a true point guard, using Gary Harris (14.3 ppg) and Jamal Murray (13.9 ppg) in the backcourt. SG Will Barton is averaging 14.4 ppg off the bench. Denver has been the Bulls’ worst NBA destination by far. They’ve lost 10 straight in the Mile High City and 16 of 17 since the championship era ended.
Next: Sacramento Kings at the United Center on Friday, 7 p.m.
— Mike McGraw
How long they’ll remain teammates is anyone’s guess. Even before the Oct. 17 practice altercation, the Bulls had a glut of power forwards. The Bulls might well be working to move one of them to a new destination, though Mirotic can’t be traded until Jan. 15 because he signed a new contract before training camp.
But Mirotic said Wednesday he’s eager to get back on the court and expects to be a quality teammate to everyone.
“The only thing I can tell you, I’ve been playing this game nine years professionally and I was always a good teammate, I was always professional with everybody and I’m going to continue to do that,” he said. “If I’m here, it’s because I want to support the team. He (Portis) is part of the team. I’m going to support him too and all the time I’m going to give him (fist bumps) like he would give hands to me as well.”
Mirotic spoke with reporters for the first time since the practice altercation that left him with facial fractures and a concussion. Portis was suspended eight games by the team for throwing a punch that caused the injuries.
Before taking questions, Mirotic said he didn’t want to rehash the incident. He acknowledged that he suffered some memory loss during the first 24 hours, but his recollection of the day’s events eventually returned.
Mirotic also wouldn’t say whether he or his agent had requested a trade. He told reporters they could talk to his agent about that topic.
“I’m comfortable being on the team,” Mirotic said. “I’ve had a lot of support from my teammates, from everybody. Right now it’s on me to relax and enjoy playing basketball again. It’s been a long time since I didn’t play. I can tell I took the next step yesterday (by attending the game at the United Center) and it was a huge feeling for me, really excited just to be on the bench. Yeah, I’m excited.”
Mirotic and Portis have interacted in the past few days, but by all accounts there has been not been a formal conversation between the two since the altercation. Portis told reporters weeks ago he reached out to Mirotic via text and voice message to apologize, but never heard back.
On Wednesday, Mirotic was asked if he accepted Portis’ apology.
“You know, we are teammates,” Mirotic said. “On the same team. Fighting for the same team and we’re both going do what we need to do to make it work. Yeah, I accept it.”
He was then asked if Portis knows his apology was accepted.
“I guess he will know now,” Mirotic said.
The plan is for Mirotic and Zach LaVine to practice with the Windy City Bulls the next couple of days. If all goes well, Mirotic may be ready to return to game action as soon as next week. He said he does not plan to wear a protective face mask.
Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said he was looking forward to getting another player with experience who can space the floor and make the right plays. Hoiberg also credited Mirotic’s defense.
“You look at the analytics from last year, Niko behind Jimmy (Butler) was our second-most efficient defensive player when he was out there on the floor, and we miss that right now,” Hoiberg said.
Here are a few more topics Mirotic addressed during his news conference at the Advocate Center:
• On whether he felt supported by the team: “Yeah. I feel that support. After what happened, Fred came to the hospital with (assistant) Jim Boylen. Gar (Forman) was calling. Everybody was worried about me. So I did feel support and I appreciated from the front office. Now their goal is to make me get back in the game. I’m working on that.”
• On losing his starting job due to the altercation: “Lauri (Markkanen) is playing great, which I’m very happy for him. But this is not very important now, if I’m going to be starting or not again. For me it’s important to be healthy, get stronger, and play basketball.”
• Why he didn’t have surgery to repair the fractures: “We had a few second opinions about the surgery, saw a few doctors and most of them, they said they recommend not to do surgery. Just with my age and where the fractures were, so they said let it heal by itself. That’s a decision we made together, Bulls and I.”
• Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls.