Nikola Mirotic

Bobby Portis Talks Future, Betting On Himself

Bobby Portis turned down the long-term security of a contract extension with the Bulls with the hopes of landing a more lucrative deal on the open market during the summer of 2019. While it may appear as if Portis made a bad bet, the former No. 22 overall pick believes he’s still in position to cash in.

“Obviously I’ve had some injuries up to this point, but I still feel like everything is lined up,’’ Portis said of his plan to become a restricted free agent this summer (via Joe Cowley of The Chicago Tribune). “It’s about me just staying healthy now and me doing my thing. The wins and losses obviously, come and go from game-to-game. You really can’t control that part all the time. We control our effort.”

The upcoming market should be much better than it was in 2018 due to the number of teams with available cap space. Many of the sour contracts from the 2016 offseason will come off the books, leaving teams the ability to make major additions. However, the competition for deals will be fierce with roughly 50% of NBA players eligible to hit the open market. Portis will likely be behind other power forwards, such as Tobias Harris, Julius Randle, Harrison Barnes, and former sparring partner Nikola Mirotic, when teams set their wish lists for a forward.

Portis has had opportunities to improve his stock, particularly during the stretch of games Lauri Markkanen missed to begin the season, but he hasn’t been able to capitalize them due to health problems. He suffered a knee injury near the start of the season and has since been sidelined during two separate stretches with ankle and elbow woes.

“I just need to stay healthy, be on the court, play as hard as I can when I can,” Portis said. “With the minutes that Coach Jim [Boylen] gives me, go out there and play with force. At the end of the day everybody wants to make as much money as they can in this game, but with me I’m just focused on my team, turning this around, and going out there and having fun. Enjoy the ride the rest of the year.’’

Entering Tuesday, Portis’ ride with the Bulls this season has only spanned 13 games. He’s been outspoken about his desire to remain with the Bulls past this season and he believes the feeling is mutual.

“Obviously I know that I really want to stay a Bull,’’ Portis said. “I can’t see myself in any other jersey. It would be weird to start the next season off in another uniform. I’ve been here for four seasons now, time flies fast, but I think I will be a Bull. It’s not only in my control, but honestly I’ve loved this opportunity to be a Bull and don’t see that changing.”

Portis will be a restricted free agent, meaning Chicago can match any offer sheet he receives. The franchise’s recent strategy has been to let RFAs hit the market and then decide whether to match, as the organization did with Zach LaVine‘s deal last offseason. Drafted in 2015, Portis is the Bulls’ longest-tenured player and he doesn’t “want that to change.’’ 

“To be around this long … obviously Bulls across my chest means a lot to me. I really take pride in that every time I step on the court. It’s a big-time honor to be the longest-tenured Bull, but at the same time I feel like I’ve got a long way to go,” Portis added.

Southwest Notes: Mirotic, Gasol, Spurs, Jackson Jr.

Pelicans forward Nikola Mirotic has regained his rhythm with the team, returning to the lineup this past week after missing 12 games with an ankle injury. He scored 26 combined points in his first two games back, draining a handful of threes as an off-ball threat.

“He was trying to get himself going early and I just kind of wanted to tell him to let it come to him,” Anthony Davis said of Mirotic following Wednesday’s win over Cleveland, according to Scott Kushner of The Advocate. “I think it was big for him to see his shot go in and from there he started making a bunch of shots.”

Mirotic wound up scoring 17 points against the Cavs, then scored nine points with a positive net rating against the Timberwolves on Saturday. He was acquired by the Pelicans in a trade last year, with the team bringing him on as a catch-and-shoot threat.

“AD said, ‘Take the first one. Don’t hesitate,’ ” Mirotic said. “So I said, ‘He’s right. If you have an open shot, take the open shot.’ Just play simple. That’s what I did. A couple of possessions after that, they went to double against AD and he passed it to me wide open, and I shot that corner in the second quarter. That was all. Playing simple.” 

The Pelicans are striving to make the postseason for the third time since drafting Davis. The team is reportedly active on the trade market, with the NBA’s annual deadline falling on February 7 this season.

There’s more out of the Southwest Division:

  • Grizzlies center Marc Gasol has denied that there’s any rift between him and teammate Joakim Noah, David Cobb of the Memphis Commercial Appeal writes. A video of Gasol brushing by Noah after the team’s win over the Spurs circulated on social media, with Gasol calling the insinuation “f——” unbelievable.” Noah also played with Marc’s brother, Pau Gasol, for two seasons in Chicago.
  • Patty Mills expects an emotional night when longtime Spurs guard Tony Parker returns to San Antonio on Monday, tweets Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News. Parker signed a free-agent contract with the Hornets last summer, leaving the Spurs after 17 seasons. “I think he is going to get a very, very warm welcome,” Mills said. “The city loves him. They always have, and vice versa. Looking forward to a pretty cool reception from the fans.”
  • Grizzlies coach J.B. Bickerstaff explains his development plan for Jaren Jackson Jr., as relayed by Cobb in a story for the Memphis Commercial Appeal. “There’s moments where it may look like we’re being tough on him,” Bickerstaff said. “But we have expectations of him being a franchise player, and your franchise player has to hold himself to those standards. And you only get one chance to coach him as a rookie.” Jackson Jr., the No. 4 pick in 2018, has averaged 13.4 points in 25.5 minutes per game this season, starting in 40 of 42 contests.

Pelicans Notes: Schedule, Davis, Mirotic

The Pelicans will begin a five-game Western Conference road trip on Friday night, kicking off a 12-game stretch that represents a “make-or-break” segment of their schedule, writes Scott Kushner of The Advocate.

If the Pelicans perform well during those 12 games – which include matchups against Golden State, Portland, Oklahoma City, Houston, Denver, the Clippers, and San Antonio (twice) – it would send a clear message to ownership and management that the club can contend, says Kushner. The stretch ends on February 4, just ahead of this season’s February 7 trade deadline, so New Orleans should have a better idea by then of whether the team remains a buyer.

On the other hand, if the Pelicans struggle and slip further out of playoff contention during those few weeks, it would be “plainly irresponsible” for the team to trade another future first-round pick for short-term help, Kushner notes.

Here’s more on the Pelicans as they gear up for a crucial portion of their schedule:

  • Even if the Pelicans slump before the trade deadline, there are no plans to make Anthony Davis available during the season, Kushner confirms. Still, the big man’s future remains a popular topic of speculation. Davis himself spoke earlier this week with Joe Vardon of The Athletic about how he tunes out those rumors, whether his situation has been a distraction, and what he wants out of his NBA career.
  • In that conversation with Vardon, Davis also addressed a recent report that suggested money wouldn’t necessarily be a deciding factor when he weighs his future: “I never said money wasn’t important. Somebody asked me about money or your legacy. In that case, your legacy lasts forever. Your money comes and goes, but for me I want to build a legacy. In that case, if you have to choose between money or legacy, I think legacy wins every time, in my opinion. … I want winning to be a part of my legacy.”
  • In a recent, wide-ranging Q&A with Larry Holder of The Athletic, Pelicans owner Gayle Benson spoke about the need to give the team “more time” to gel and touched briefly on the subject of Anthony Davis. “I think [the Pelicans] are young, and we’re going to invest more money and get the big players and do everything we can to keep Anthony here,” Benson said. “I really like what we have in place. I really like Anthony, but if he wants to leave, you can’t hold him back.” Benson took over as the Pelicans’ controlling owner when her husband Tom Benson passed away last year.
  • The Pelicans’ lineup got on lift on Wednesday night when Nikola Mirotic returned from a month-long absence and looked healthy and productive in 22 minutes vs. Cleveland. However, after missing time due to his right ankle injury, Mirotic likely won’t cash in on any unlikely-incentive money for 2018/19. As ESPN’s Bobby Marks details (via Twitter), Mirotic has three separate $250K performance bonuses ($750K total) that all hinge on him playing at least 65 games. If he misses two more games this season, Mirotic will fall short of 65.

Pelicans Notes: Davis, Barnes, Mirotic

With trade speculation swirling around Anthony Davis, ESPN’s Zach Lowe writes that Davis’ situation is the NBA’s biggest ongoing story, contending that the media didn’t create that story — the calendar did. With the Pelicans now in 14th place in the Western Conference at 15-20 and Davis’ super-max eligibility just over six months away, it’s only logical that NBA insiders – including media, agents, and executives – will start taking a closer look at Davis’ future, says Lowe.

Davis hasn’t expressed interest in a trade. He also hasn’t told people close to him that he wants to join the Lakers or any other specific team if he decides to leave New Orleans, sources tell Lowe.

Still, Lowe – who hears that teams expect Davis to sign a series of shorter-term contracts – is predicting that the All-NBA big man will eventually turn down the Pelicans’ super-max offer when the team puts it on the table in the offseason. If that happens, Davis would effectively become a free agent, according to Lowe, since he’d be on an expiring contract and will have passed on the Pelicans’ best possible extension offer.

Here’s more from Lowe on Davis and the Pelicans:

  • Explaining why the Lakers and Celtics are most frequently cited as the logical trade partners for the Pelicans if they eventually decide to move Davis, Lowe runs through several other options – including the Heat, Spurs, Bulls, Knicks, and Sixers – and has trouble finding another team with the necessary assets to make it work.
  • As Lowe details, the Heat, Spurs, Bulls, and Knicks would have to give up virtually all the players Davis would want as teammates, and Klutch’s representation of Ben Simmons would complicate a Philadelphia scenario. The Warriors would have interest, according to Lowe, but they wouldn’t trade Kevin Durant or Stephen Curry, and it would be tricky to make a deal work with Klay Thompson (a 2019 free agent) or Draymond Green as a centerpiece.
  • Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer covers similar ground in an article of his own, taking a deep dive into the Davis situation and exploring possible outcomes and trade scenarios. One interesting note from O’Connor, who examines whether the Pelicans can improve their roster around Davis: The Pelicans have never gone into the luxury tax, and front office executives don’t expect them to anytime soon.
  • On the non-Davis front, Lowe revisits some previous Pelicans roster moves, citing sources who say that the team considered spending all its cap room in 2016 on Harrison Barnes. Instead, New Orleans ended up with E’Twaun Moore and Solomon Hill — the investment in Moore has worked out, but Hill’s contract has become an albatross.
  • Although the Pelicans’ 2017/18 in-season acquisition of Nikola Mirotic essentially served as a response to DeMarcus Cousins‘ season-ending Achilles injury, they were actually in trade talks for Mirotic even before that injury, per Lowe. Davis, Cousins, and Mirotic couldn’t have all been on the court together, so it’s not clear how New Orleans’ plan would have worked if Cousins hadn’t gotten hurt — it was “the sort of jumble that materializes when a team flings itself from plan to plan,” writes Lowe.

Free Agent Stock Watch 2019: Southwest Division

Every week, Hoops Rumors takes a closer look at players who will be free agents or could become free agents next offseason. We examine if their stock is rising or falling due to performance and other factors. This week, we turn our attention to the Southwest Division:

Wesley Matthews, Mavericks, 32,  SG (Down) – Signed to a four-year, $70MM deal in 2015
Matthews got off to a strong start, reaching the 20-point mark in six of the first 10 games. An injury set him back as a mild hamstring strain kept him out of four games. He’s shot 33% from 3-point range in the last two games since returning to action. There’s always a market for players who can make the long ball but at his age, Matthews is probably looking at a short-term deal in his next contract and might have to settle for a second-unit role.

Marquese Chriss, Rockets, 21, PF, (Down) – Signed to a three-year, $9.2MM deal in 2016
Chriss received a fresh start when the Suns traded him to a contender. So far, Chriss has failed to take advantage of the situation, even after the club decided to part ways with Carmelo Anthony. Chriss has only appeared in seven games and hasn’t played more than eight minutes in any of them. It’s hard to believe he was chosen with the No. 8 overall pick in 2016. Chriss is still younger than many college players, so he’ll get another chance somewhere else, but he’ll have to settle for a modest contract.

Shelvin Mack, Grizzlies, 28, PG (Up) – Signed to a one-year, $2MM deal in 2018
The Grizzlies brought in Mack on a veteran’s minimum deal to back up Mike Conley. Mack has been a steady presence in the rotation, averaging 9.9 PPG and 3.6 APG while keeping his turnovers down (1.3 per game). He’s also shot it well from long range (41.8%). Mack isn’t flashy but he’s a competent second-unit floor leader and he might get more than one year on the open market next summer.

Nikola Mirotic, Pelicans, 27, PF (Up) — Signed to a two-year, $15MM deal in 2017
Mirotic made national headlines last season when Bulls teammate Bobby Portis slugged him during a practice dispute. Far removed from that incident, Mirotic is enjoying a career year with the Pelicans. He’s averaging 19.2 PPG and 10.5 RPG in 31.6 MPG. His 3-point percentage is down from last season but is still a solid 37%. Mirotic should receive plenty of attention on the open market as a stretch four who can also pound the glass.

Rudy Gay, Spurs, 32 (Up) – Signed to a one-year, $10MM deal in 2018
Gay had an ugly outing against Minnesota on Wednesday (three points in 19 minutes) but otherwise he’s been quite efficient this season. He’s shooting 49.2% from the field and 46.7% outside the arc and has also been a factor on the boards (7.1 per game). Gay has been thrust into a starting role with the injury-riddled Spurs but he’ll probably be looked upon as a second-unit contributor when he returns to the open market. He’s showing he still has something left in the tank.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Sixers Optimistic Butler Will Stay Put

Sixers managing partner and owner Josh Harris is both determined and optimistic that Jimmy Butler will remain with the team beyond this season, as he told USA Today’s Jeff Zillgitt and The Athletic’s Shams Charania.

The Butler trade was made to give the franchise a third star alongside Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid and become a serious championship contender. It wouldn’t have happened unless the Sixers were convinced they could keep Butler, who can opt out of his contract this summer, in the long run.

“We’ve been saying since the summer we’ve been looking for another star and we felt we needed another shooter, a three-and-D wing, someone like Jimmy,” Harris told Zillgitt. “They’re hard to find at this elite level. We know who we have to get through to win the East. It’s obvious who it is. We think this is a piece we needed.”

While Butler became a major distraction around the Timberwolves, he’s been a model citizen since joining the Sixers. And Philadelphia anticipates that its gamble will pay off in the long run in the form of a multi-year contract.

“Our goal is to have elite talent under contract for a long time,” Harris told Charania. “That’s what we’re interested in.”

Both reporters offered insights into the trade discussions involving Butler. The Sixers eventually agreed to deal Dario Saric, Robert Covington, Jerryd Bayless and a future second-rounder for Butler and throw-in Justin Patton.

  • The Timberwolves initially asked for another starter in addition to the trio the Sixers dealt, according to Zillgitt.
  • Minnesota narrowed its offers to three teams, with the Pelicans and Rockets being the other finalists, according to Charania.  New Orleans dangled forward Nikola Mirotic and a first-round pick, while Houston was willing to part with guard Eric Gordon and two first-rounders.
  • The Sixers initially offered draft picks and other large contracts, Harris told Charania. Markelle Fultz was discussed in the Butler talks.
  • Other suitors, such as the Lakers, wanted to wait until the December 15th date when signed free agents could be included in a deal for Butler, Charania added.

Nets Rumors: Butler, LeVert, Allen, Russell, RHJ

Although the Nets internally view Jimmy Butler as a top-10 or top-15 player in the NBA, the team resolved not to give up any of its prime assets for him once he became available, writes Michael Scotto of The Athletic. When Brooklyn briefly discussed the possibility of acquiring Butler in a trade, Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, and the team’s first-round pick were off-limits.

As Scotto details, general manager Sean Marks and head coach Kenny Atkinson have talked throughout their tenures about not “skipping steps” in the Nets’ rebuilding process. Sacrificing one or two of the club’s top young players or draft picks would have meant going for a quick fix, with no assurances that Butler would have stuck around beyond 2019.

Here’s more out of Brooklyn:

  • The Nets did kick the tires on Butler before the Timberwolves sent him to Philadelphia, having discussed a deal involving D’Angelo Russell, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and salary filler, league sources tell Scotto. However, those talks didn’t gain any traction.
  • Scotto identifies Nikola Mirotic and Tobias Harris as two veteran forwards who may receive interest from the Nets during the summer of 2019. Brooklyn has long coveted a reliable stretch four, and Mirotic and Harris, who will both be unrestricted free agents next year, are capable of playing that role.
  • As he approaches restricted free agency, D’Angelo Russell is showing a little more consistency, particularly on the defensive end, writes Brian Lewis of The New York Post. “His maturity, his consistency, that’s what we’re starting to see,” Kenny Atkinson said. “That’s the challenge for him. It’s not on-again, off-again. We need more on from him, and I think he’s starting to get over that hurdle. He looked really good physically, too, against Denver (on Friday). He really got after it.”

Details On Rockets’, Pelicans’ Trade Offers For Butler

A report over the weekend indicated that the Timberwolves had three trade offers on the table for Jimmy Butler before ultimately deciding to pull the trigger on a Sixers package headlined by Robert Covington and Dario Saric. In their latest report for The Athletic, Shams Charania and Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic provide some details on the other two offers Minnesota was considering, which came from the Rockets and Pelicans.

According to Charania and Krawczynski, the Rockets – who had previously offered four first-round picks attached to Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss – adjusted their proposal to make it more appealing to Tom Thibodeau, who remains in win-now mode. Houston’s offer featured Eric Gordon, Nene, and two first-round picks, sources told The Athletic. It’s not clear what sort of protections would have been on those first-rounders, or whether any other pieces were involved.

As for the Pelicans, they weren’t mentioned often over the last couple months as a serious suitor for Butler, but they were engaged in talks with Minnesota at the end of the process. Charania and Krawczynski report that New Orleans’ package was headlined by Nikola Mirotic and an unprotected first-round pick. Again, it’s unclear what other pieces would have been included in such a deal — Mirotic’s salary wouldn’t have been enough to match Butler’s on its own.

The full report from Charania and Krawczynski is excellent, providing a timeline of the Butler saga from mid-September right up until today. It’s worth checking out in full if you have a subscription to The Athletic.

Here are a few more highlights from the piece:

  • Friday’s game was viewed as a fork in the road for both the Timberwolves and Butler. We previously heard that Thibodeau and GM Scott Layden decided after that game that Butler had played his last game for the team — it sounds like Butler had made up his mind too. According to Charania and Krawczynski, the 29-year-old had decided to begin sitting out indefinitely after that game if Minnesota didn’t trade him.
  • Thibodeau subsequently told his staff after Friday’s game that they had to move Butler, sources tell The Athletic. In fact, the Timberwolves nearly held the All-NBA swingman out of Friday’s game because they already had traction on a potential deal.
  • The Heat‘s original offer for Butler included Goran Dragic, Justise Winslow, and a draft pick, per Charania and Krawczynski. Miami later extended Winslow and put Josh Richardson into an offer. However, when a deal involving Richardson fell apart, the Heat pulled him off the table and never included him in another offer.

Bulls Notes: Valentine, Hoiberg, Parker, Mirotic

Denzel Valentine has yet to appear in a game this season for the Bulls, and his 2018/19 debut isn’t imminent. As The Chicago Sun-Times relays (via Twitter), executive VP of basketball operations John Paxson indicated on Wednesday that Valentine’s left ankle isn’t responding well, prompting the team to pump the brakes on his rehab and rule him out indefinitely.

With Valentine still on the shelf, the team figures to continue relying on rookie Chandler Hutchison in a regular rotation role. Chicago also appears to qualify for the hardship provision, which allows an injury-ravaged team to add a 16th man to its 15-man roster when it’s missing at least four players. Valentine, Kris Dunn, Bobby Portis, and Lauri Markkanen are all in the midst of extended absences for the Bulls, but there has been no word on the team applying for or receiving that roster exception.

Here’s more from out of Chicago:

  • It looks like there’s a real possibility that the 2018/19 season could be Fred Hoiberg‘s last with the Bulls, says Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times. If that happens, GM Gar Forman should follow Hoiberg out the door, Cowley argues.
  • Hoiberg had a heated discussion with Jabari Parker during Wednesday’s loss, according to Cowley, who notes that Parker jogged down the floor on back-to-back defensive possessions before Hoiberg called timeout and had words with him.
  • Bulls center Wendell Carter, a former Duke Blue Devil, raved about his alma mater’s 2018/19 roster, suggesting that he believes Zion Williamson will “translate perfectly” to the NBA, as Cowley details. However, Carter doesn’t want to see the Bulls go into tank mode to try to land one of those top Duke prospects in next year’s draft. “I feel like we’ve just got to try to win every game,” he said. “If we lose, but we’re playing hard, that’s one thing, but I wouldn’t feel good losing games on purpose.”
  • In yet another article for The Sun-Times, Cowley revisits Nikola Mirotic‘s time in Chicago, suggesting that the front office “couldn’t wait to deal him” and some of his teammates “weren’t exactly sad” that Bobby Portis punched him during a practice last fall. Hoiberg and Robin Lopez spoke highly of Mirotic, however.
  • Sam Smith of Bulls.com explores where things stand for two-way player Tyler Ulis, who finds himself on the Windy City Bulls after spending the last two seasons as an NBA rotation player.

Extension Roundup: Rozier, Portis, Jones, Russell

 Celtics point guard Terry Rozier turned down a rookie scale extension offer prior to Monday’s deadline and will become a restricted free agent next summer, A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston reports. Boston offered Rozier approximately $12MM annually, according to Blakely, but chose to take his chances in free agency. Talks were cordial and the two parties will revisit each other when Rozier hits the market, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN tweets.
“I’m in a great situation,” Rozier told Blakely. “My team (representatives) felt it wasn’t good for me to sign an extension right now. It opens my options a little bit, but I’m focused on what’s happening right now.”
Rozier is expected to have multiple suitors even as a restricted free agent, since Kyrie Irving recently announced that he plans to re-sign with the Celtics next summer, Blakely notes. Rozier broke out last season, particularly after Irving went down with a knee injury. He was especially potent in the playoffs, averaging 16.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG and 5.7 APG.
We have more extension decisions:
  • The Timberwolves and point guard Tyus Jones did not reach a rookie scale extension agreement. Jones will be a restricted free agent, and that’s been the expectation all along, Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic tweets. Minnesota would have to make a $3,573,205 qualifying offer before free agency next summer, otherwise Jones would be unrestricted. Jones saw action in all 82 regular-season games last season, including 11 starts, and averaged 5.1 PPG and 2.8 APG in 17.9 MPG.
  • The Bulls and forward Bobby Portis couldn’t come to an extension agreement before Monday’s deadline, Wojnarowski tweets. Agent Mark Bartelstein and Chicago GM Gar Forman had lengthy negotiations as the deadline approached, K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune tweets, but couldn’t close the financial gap. “We had very positive talks,” Bartelstein told Johnson. “These are hard extensions to get done.” (Twitter link). Portis will be a restricted free agent if Chicago gives him a $3,611,813 qualifying offer. He averaged 13.2 PPG and 6.8 RPG in 73 regular season games after returning from his eight-game team suspension following his well-publicized dust-up with former teammate Nikola Mirotic.
  • Nets guard D’Angelo Russell and forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson did not receive extensions, Michael Scotto of The Athetic tweets. Neither player was aware of Monday’s deadline, according to Scotto, suggesting that the Nets never made a serious pitch to lock them up before free agency. The Nets would have extend a $9,160,706 qualifying offer to Russell to make him a restricted free agent. Hollis-Jefferson’s qualifying offer would be $3,594,369.