Entering this season, it seemed as though third-year forward Bobby Portis would finally assume a prominent role on the rebuilding Chicago Bulls.
After averaging 7.0 points and 5.4 rebounds in 17.8 minutes over 62 games (four starts) as a rookie in 2015-2016, Portis regressed last season in his second year as a pro, posting 6.8 points and 4.6 boards in 15.6 minutes over 64 contests (13 starts).
However, the 22 year old found himself in a positive situation heading into this season, seemingly slated to take on a 20-plus minute role right out of the gates for Chicago.
Note the past tense.
In one of the most unexpected stories of the entire year in sports so far, Portis was involved in a physical altercation with teammate Nikola Mirotic at practice right before the season tipped off. It was ugly, too. Portis sent Mirotic to the hospital with broken bones in his face along with a concussion. He’s still recovering and will be out indefinitely, perhaps having to undergo surgery in the future.
Portis was suspended for eight games as a result of the punch.
A few days after the incident, Portis publicly apologized, but Mirotic went on the record, saying that the team had a choice to make: either trade him or trade Portis, as he would no longer feel comfortable suiting up alongside him.
It appears as though the team has made their choice (or is simply ignoring Mirotic's ultimatum).
On Tuesday, Portis will make his season debut against the Toronto Raptors. The team recently picked up his option for next season as well, which sent a clear message to Mirotic and Portis' critics.
While he’s slated to return, it is not certain where he will fit within Fred Hoiberg’s rotation. In his absence, rookie Lauri Markkanen has been one of the most consistent offensive power forwards in the entire NBA, averaging 16.3 points and 9.0 rebounds in 33.0 minutes per contest and is clearly one of the early frontrunners in the Rookie of the Year chase.
"[Portis has] been practicing, and that will all be discussed in the next couple days, exactly what we're going to do in the Toronto game," Hoiberg told reporters after Saturday's overtime loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, per ESPN’s Nick Friedell. "The biggest thing is try to go out there with the guys that we've had available and put them in a position where they're competing and giving ourselves a chance to win. And for the most part, with the exception of the Oklahoma City game, we've done that. We'll get that figured out in the next few days.”
The coach couldn’t seem to hide his excitement about getting his player back.
"He's working extremely hard," Hoiberg said regarding Portis' current state. "When everything happened, we had to put together makeshift lineups, guys that hadn't played positions. So those guys were getting most of the reps in practice. Obviously, they were the ones we were going to play in the games. Bobby's been getting a lot of extra work in before and after practice. We'll give him a lot of reps here [in Monday's practice] ... he's a competitive kid. I know he's excited.”
Despite the slip-up, Portis still seems to have the respect of his teammates, like shooting guard Justin Holiday and veteran center Robin Lopez.
"I think he's handled it as well as he could have," Lopez said of Portis. "I don't know exactly what's going to happen going forward with rotations or anything, but I know he's mentally prepared for it, and we're excited to have him back.”
Luckily for Portis, the path to playing time seems obvious. Other than Markkanen, he will be the only traditional power forward on the bench. Additionally, Lopez and Cristiano Felicio are the only two centers. Therefore, Portis can possibly pick up some additional minutes at the five if needed. Without Portis in the mix, Hoiberg has been forced to play a lot of small-ball based on his personnel.
It will be a dicey situation if and when Mirotic is ready to return, but in the meantime, it appears as though Chicago is comfortable about putting the incident behind them and giving Portis a second chance.