In an NBA offseason that was filled with trades, signings and a heightened overall sense of drama, the practice scuffle between Chicago Bulls forwards Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis was in a class of its own.
As a result of the physical fight that occurred right before the start of the season, Mirotic ended up in the hospital with broken bones in his face and hasn’t yet made his season debut while recovering. Portis was suspended by the league for the first eight games of the year and has since returned and has been welcomed back with open arms by his teammates and the organization as a whole.
Most of all, the incident gave people a glimpse of a dysfunctional and disjointed Bulls roster. Frustration can be expected in any rebuild, but it boiled over beyond the line in that instance.
After the dust had settled, Portis issued a public apology to Mirotic, who made it clear that he didn’t accept it. Mirotic then gave the Bulls an ultimatum: trade him or Portis, because he wasn’t going to play alongside the man who put him in the hospital again.
As the weeks have passed, Mirotic apparently re-evaluated his stance and has changed his tune when it comes to playing alongside the teammate who literally broke his face.
Speaking after Chicago’s practice on Wednesday, Mirotic said, "We are on the same team. Obviously we are fighting for this team. We both are going to do what we need to do to make it work. Yeah, I did accept his apology.”
This was the first time that Mirotic publicly addressed the incident. He made it clear that he’s proud to be a member of the Bulls organization.
"I'm comfortable being with the team," Mirotic explained. "I had a lot of support from my teammates, from everybody. Right now it's on me to relax and enjoy playing basketball again, to get my strength back. It's been a long time since I didn't play. ... When I stepped into the United Center [Tuesday] it was a huge feeling for me, really excited just to be on the bench, so yeah, I'm excited.”
Not only will Mirotic let bygones be bygones, but he will also support Portis as though he is any other teammate.
"I've been playing this game nine years professionally," Mirotic said. "I was always a good teammate, always professional with everybody and I'm going to continue to do that. If I'm here it's because I want to continue to support the team. He's a part of the team. I'm going to support him too. Obviously, I'm going to give him [fist bumps], like he would give me [fist bumps] too."
Mirotic’s facial fractures have healed, per ESPN’s Nick Friedell, but no timetable for a return has been announced.
"I know he's excited to get back out there on the floor," coach Fred Hoiberg said. "That's the final hurdle here, getting him back on the court, in uniform, in a game setting. Hopefully he responds well here to these next three days and then we'll make a determination from there as far as getting him back out on the floor. But he's been in really good spirits. He's been really good with the guys. Now it's about getting in the best shape possible and getting ready to play."
When Mirotic eventually makes his return, it could end up being a defining season for him. He’s making $12.5 million this year and the team holds a $12.5 million option for next season. Therefore, if Chicago doesn’t pick that option up, he could be a coveted unrestricted free agent based on his versatility and proven scoring ability.