Zach LaVine

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.

Central Notes: Bulls, Thompson, Pistons, Carter

As the Bulls continue to navigate their way through the early stages of a rebuild, their core players have struggled most of the time they have been on the floor together. Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times writes that the core of Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen look confused when sharing the floor together and at this point, still have more questions than answers.

A big reason for this confusion is the injuries that have plagued each player. In fact, Cowley points out that the three players have only played in 15 games together, despite joining together after the Jimmy Butler trade in June 2017.

The Bulls have since added Wendell Carter to the mix and have changed coaches, which will surely continue to create confusion among their growing core. Of course, as the rebuild continues, there will be more faces added to the mix to compliment this core.

There’s more from the Central division:

  • Cavaliers big man Tristan Thompson played a key role during Collin Sexton‘s recent stretch of promising play, but has missed the past ten games due to a foot injury. As Chris Fedor points out, Sexton has struggled in recent weeks without his pick-and-roll partner alongside him.
  • After their blowout loss to the Pacers, Rod Beard of The Detroit News reveals that the Pistons held a team meeting last week, with coach Dwane Casey and some of the team’s veterans sharing some positive words about how it went.
  • Wendell Carter has continued to prove he belongs in the league, providing energy and hustle plays on both ends of the floor. Sam Smith of the Bulls team website writes about how Carter is focusing on growing and learning each time he steps on the court.

Central Notes: Kennard, Krauskopf, Evans, Dunn

Luke Kennard may be the latest Pistons wing to play his way out of the starting small forward spot, as I noted in the Detroit Free Press. Kennard has scored just 24 points over the last six games after a 28-point outing in Philadelphia. The second-year swingman out of Duke was benched during the second half of a 98-95 home loss to Atlanta on Sunday. Stanley Johnson and Glenn Robinson III were also ineffective in that role. “There’s nothing maddening about it at all (but) you want that person to step in and produce,” coach Dwane Casey said of finding someone to fill that slot. “Give some production, whether it’s energy defensively, energy offensively, running the floor, cutting, just playing basketball. That’s what you’re searching for in that position.”

We have more from around the Central Division:

  • Pacers GM Kevin Pritchard said that hiring Kelly Krauskopf as an assistant GM had nothing to do with making history, according to Dana Hunsinger Benbow of the Indianapolis Star. Krauskopf became the first women to hold that NBA front office position in a modern-day format in that she will be involved in personnel decisions. “It’s going to be made a big deal about (her being a woman) and the truth is she is just the best person for the job, period, end of discussion,” he said. “It doesn’t matter (her) gender, race, anything like that. She was the best person for the job.” Krauskopf spent 17 years as GM of the WNBA’s Indiana Fever.
  • Pacers guard Tyreke Evans has missed the last two games due to knee soreness and will be a game-time decision against Atlanta on Wednesday. Evans explained to Scott Agness of The Athletic that he aggravated an old right knee injury when the Sixers’ Joel Embiid fell on him during a collision. Fluid built up and Evans, who had three operations on that knee in 2016, needed to have the knee drained.
  • Bulls point guard Kris Dunn has taken a bigger offensive role with Zach LaVine sidelined by an ankle injury, Mark Strotman of NBC Sports Chicago writes. Dunn is averaging 17.8 PPG and 6.0 APG over the last five games with LaVine out of commission. “Whatever gets the win. If I’ve got to be aggressive on the offensive side looking at the rim a little bit more or getting my guys involved,” he said. “I’m a pass-first point guard but it’s the NBA.”

Central Notes: LaVine, Bullock, Portis, Griffin

The Bulls‘ rebuild process is temporarily on hold after the recent injury to star guard Zach LaVine, as the team will once again have to wait to see how all its core players fit together, Mark Strotman of NBC Sports writes. LaVine suffered a sprained left ankle in Mexico City last week, with the 24-year-old expected to miss at least 2-to-4 more weeks of action.

LaVine’s injury comes around the same time another Bulls player, Bobby Portis, sustained a sprained ankle of his own. The team announced a similar 2-to-4 week absence for Portis on Thursday.

“Well first of all it’s heartbreaking for me, and I know John and Gar and Jerry and Michael, it’s heartbreaking,” Bulls coach Jim Boylen said of the team’s recent injuries. “(The) injury thing is out of your control, it’s very difficult. But we’ll just get them together when they’re available and we’ll evaluate it from there. I don’t know what else to do really. Other teams go through it. It’s part of the league. We just have to do the best we can when it’s possible to play them together.”

The Bulls have dealt with injuries to key players such as Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn and LaVine this season, struggling to gain a rhythm offensively and work as a unit defensively. Team management decided to fire coach Fred Hoiberg earlier this month after a 5-19 start to the season, naming Boylen as his replacement.

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • Pistons forward Reggie Bullock has used his contract season as motivation, with the 27-year-old set to enter free agency in July. “It’s definitely a confidence builder,” Bullock said, according to Rod Beard of The Detroit News. “It’s the last year of my current contract, but I’m just going out hungry. I gotta eat. I’ve got stuff I’ve got to do and my teammates are blessing me with advice and telling me to shoot the ball and give me a lot of confidence to continue to play, perform on the court and show it.” Bullock is in his fourth season with the Pistons, averaging a career-best 12.1 points per game.
  • Mark Strotman examines where the Bulls can go after Portis’ ankle injury in a different story for NBC Sports, labeling the team’s various options for playing time during his absence. Portis’ injury could lead to extended minutes for Jabari Parker, time at the power forward position for Wendell Carter Jr., or a larger role for Chandler Hutchison.
  • The Pistons are working on building around Blake Griffin while staying within reasonable cap flexibility, Beard writes in his mailbag for the Detroit News. The team traded for Griffin last season, placing him alongside Andre Drummond to create one of the league’s most formidable frontcourts. Detroit is 15-14 and holds the No. 6 seed, owning a 4-2 record against other Central Division teams.

Zach LaVine Expected To Miss 2-4 Weeks

Just when the Bulls‘ roster appeared to be getting a little healthier, the team’s leading scorer has gone down with an injury that will sideline him into the new year. Speaking today to reporters, including Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times, head coach Jim Boylen said that Zach LaVine is expected to miss the next two to four weeks.

LaVine, who injured his left ankle late in last Thursday’s loss to the Magic in Mexico City, returned to Chicago in a walking boot and has already missed the Bulls’ last two games. Cowley suggests the 23-year-old has been able to start the rehab process, but the team will be “extra cautious” with the injury, which will be evaluated on a week-to-week basis.

Kris Dunn, Ryan Arcidiacono, and Justin Holiday could take on some added backcourt responsibilities as long as LaVine remains on the shelf, while Cameron Payne and Shaquille Harrison should also see regular minutes off the bench.

The Bulls are unlikely to make a roster move, since they have a full 15-man squad and LaVine’s absence isn’t expected to be a long-term one.

Bulls Don’t Believe LaVine Will Need Surgery

The Bulls are finishing their road trip without Zach LaVine, who left for Chicago this morning for further examination on his injured left ankle, writes K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune.

LaVine, who sprained his deltoid ligament Thursday night, will miss at least two games. Early indications are that he will need a least a week to rest, Johnson reports, but the team doesn’t think surgery will be necessary.

“We are going to consult with some other specialists and try to figure out exactly what’s going on and create a plan of action,” coach Jim Boylen said. “We’re disappointed and sorry that he was hurt. But we’re hopeful we can get a good evaluation and get moving towards recovery. He’s seeing our guys right now. And he’s going to see some specialists because we want to get as much information as we can. And then we’ll get a diagnosis and start building a rehab schedule.”

The Bulls were in Mexico City on Thursday, and an MRI wasn’t performed until the team arrived in San Antonio Friday afternoon. The team wants its specialists in Chicago to review the results before deciding on the next step of treatment.

LaVine is having by far his best NBA season, averaging career highs in points (23.8), rebounds (4.9) and assists (4.8). He is providing plenty of value on the new four-year, $80MM contract he received when the Bulls matched an offer sheet from the Kings in July.

Losing LaVine is the latest in a long string of bad luck for the Bulls, who just saw Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn and Bobby Portis all return from early-season injuries. The team is having trouble building any continuity with a constantly changing lineup.

Although Chicago is short-handed, Jabari Parker still won’t return to the rotation, Johnson adds. Boylen  plans to start Dunn and Ryan Arcidiacono in the backcourt tonight, while Chandler Hutchison will return after missing Thursday’s game with an illness. The Bulls are trying to work out a trade involving Parker.

Bulls Notes: Markkanen, Leadership Committee, More

While not every Bulls player was on the original group text that discussed a possible boycott of last Sunday’s practice, Lauri Markkanen was — and his voice “resonated immediately” when he urged teammates to show up, writes K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune.

“I thought that was a more professional way to go about it,” Markkanen said of going to the team facility on Sunday. “I thought about other members of the staff. Like, they show up to work. Obviously, this isn’t the main point, but some of the staff lives an hour away and they come to work. I try to think how disrespectful that is to tell them that we wouldn’t show up.”

As Johnson details in that story, Markkanen believes he can be one of the leaders of the Bulls, and it appears he’ll get the opportunity to play that part. As Johnson tweeted on Thursday, the team’s new “leadership committee” will be comprised of Zach LaVine, Robin Lopez, Justin Holiday, Bobby Portis, and Markkanen. According to Johnson (Twitter link), the committee was originally just going to be four players, but Markkanen asked to be added.

Here’s more from out of Chicago:

  • With the Bulls facing plenty of outside criticism for the drama involving Boylen and his team, executive VP of basketball operations John Paxson pushed back this week against those critics, as Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times relays. The only thing that discourages me is when there are storylines out there and no one asks us our side of the story,” Paxson said. “It’s easy to look from the outside in and gather information from other people around the league that you know, but if you’re not coming directly to us, how do you really know? I’m confident in what we’re doing. … There’s so much noise out there, so much negativity. I don’t feel it inside our building or our locker room. Like I said, I think that what happened the last week, long term, will be a good thing.”
  • Addressing the situation in Chicago on Thursday, commissioner Adam Silver said that no one from the players’ union contacted him this week about the Bulls, and he plans to stay out of matters relating to the “operation of any particular team.” Cowley has the details and the quotes for The Sun-Times.
  • K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune answered several Bulls-related questions in his mailbag earlier this week.
  • Earlier today, we passed along word that the Bulls have engaged in some Jabari Parker trade talks. That full story is right here.

Bulls Considering Leadership Committee

The Bulls discussed forming a leadership committee after this weekend’s incidents involving new coach Jim Boylen, according to Malika Andrews and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN. If it happens, committee members will help to foster communication and mitigate disputes that arise between players and coaches.

Bulls players reacted angrily after Boylen, who took over for Fred Hoiberg last week, scheduled a Sunday practice in the midst of a three-game stretch in four nights. Boylen has been holding strenuous practice sessions since becoming head coach, and players objected to the additional wear and tear in the midst of a difficult part of the schedule.

Some players discussed boycotting Sunday’s session, but Lauri Markkanen and Robin Lopez helped to quell that rebellion. All the players showed up, but there was no practice, just two meetings — one involving just players and another between players and coaches with team president John Paxson and GM Gar Forman present.

Boylen reportedly has the full support of management in his get-tough approach with the team. However, he explained in the second meeting that he wasn’t intending to hold a hard practice on Sunday and stressed to players that they need to learn to trust him.

Zach LaVine told the ESPN writers he met one-on-one with Boylen and tried to explain his perspective.

“You just want to be real with people,” LaVine said. “There shouldn’t be any clouds. I think of myself as one of the leaders on the team. I just wanted to voice my opinion to them. This is a business, this isn’t a dictatorship. We are all grown men, so everybody has a voice.”

Bulls Players Reached Out To NBPA About Boylen’s Tactics

It was an odd weekend for the Bulls, who picked up a rare win on Friday, suffered the worst loss in team history on Saturday, then held a pair of meetings on Sunday in lieu of the practice that head coach Jim Boylen had reportedly planned. As we relayed this morning, some Bulls players had originally wanted to skip Sunday’s practice altogether, discussing the idea beforehand in a group chat, but Robin Lopez and Lauri Markkanen were among those who convinced everyone to show up and voice their concerns.

Speaking today to reporters, including K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune (Twitter link), Boylen pushed back on the idea that his team – as a whole – was opposed to practicing on Sunday.

“That is not true that ‘they’ didn’t want to have practice. ‘They’ means everybody. That is not true. I don’t like that narrative,” Boylen said, per Johnson. “The truth is we had a couple guys who thought a Sunday practice was excessive after the week we had. They have to trust me that if I bring them in to practice, I’m going to manage their legs. They didn’t understand that. So I explained to them that you have to trust me that I’m going to do what’s best for this team. What was best was coming in, being together and growing.”

As Johnson explains (via Twitter), it’s not as if Boylen’s tactics are at odds with what Bulls ownership and management wants from him — while his coaching style definitely reflects his personality, Boylen also has an organizational mandate to push his players hard, says Johnson. The head coach said as much on Monday, as Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times relays.

“My job, I tell them this and you guys have heard me say this, is to try and push our guys to a place they can’t take themselves,” Boylen said. “That’s pushing them outside their comfort zone. That’s what my job is, that’s what the Reinsdorfs are paying me for. I take that very seriously, so I explained that to them.”

As Boylen doubles down on his hard-nosed approach to the head coaching job, Vincent Goodwill and Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports report that Bulls players contacted the National Basketball Players Association on Sunday about Boylen’s tactics. Having already gone through three two-and-a-half hour practices since Boylen took over last Monday, the players reached out to the union when it appeared that another grueling practice was on tap for Sunday following a back-to-back set.

Haynes and Goodwill passed along several more fascinating tidbits on the situation in Chicago. We’ll round up a number of the highlights here:

  • Following Saturday’s game, one of the team’s veterans said – in a group text with his teammates – that if anyone showed up to Sunday’s practice, the vet would personally fine them, according to Haynes and Goodwill. Some players agreed, but with Boylen aware of the plan and refusing to relent, the players ultimately decided to show up, even though they had no intention of practicing.
  • Lopez, who wasn’t part of the initial group chat, played a major role in getting the players to back down, per Yahoo’s report. The veteran center also said today that the team “came out the better for it” after Sunday’s meetings, but admitted that he wished Fred Hoiberg had been given the chance to coach a fully healthy roster this season, according to Malika Andrews of ESPN.com.
  • Sources close to Boylen tell Haynes and Goodwill that the coach wasn’t actually planning to conduct a rigorous practice on Sunday. K.C. Johnson previously reported the same thing, writing that Boylen simply planned to have his players watch film and get some shots up. It’s not clear whether or not that’s revisionist history, considering Boylen said on Saturday night that he pulled his players early on Saturday in a “premeditated” move so that they’d be able to practice on Sunday.
  • Boylen, who has had “numerous verbal confrontations” with Bulls players since the start of the 2018/19 season, went against the usual postgame protocol by making players watch film immediately after last Tuesday’s loss to Indiana. Sources tell Haynes and Goodwill that Bulls players felt like they were being treated like high school athletes, and felt further disrespected when Boylen told the media later the players had to get in better shape.
  • When the Bulls told Boylen on Sunday that they weren’t practicing, Zach LaVine and Justin Holiday were the “most vocal,” sources tell Haynes and Goodwill. Sensing “turmoil” in Chicago, some teams have begun looking into Holiday’s availability, though it’s not yet clear if the Bulls will engage in trade talks, according to Haynes and Goodwill. Previous reports have suggested Holiday, who is on an expiring contract, should be available.
  • Defending his decision to sub out all five starters at once during Saturday’s game, Boylen cited Gregg Popovich and the Spurs when speaking with his team on Sunday. According to Haynes and Goodwill, one player responded by telling Boylen, in essence, that the Bulls “aren’t the Spurs and, more importantly, he isn’t Popovich.”

Bulls Hold Meeting Following Blowout Loss

The Bulls held a players-only meeting on Sunday, just one day removed from a 133-77 blowout loss to the Celtics at home, according to Malika Andrews of ESPN.com (Twitter link). The coaching staff eventually joined the players to discuss the team’s status, with the meeting reportedly being led by Zach LaVine and Justin Holiday.

Bulls coach Jim Boylen refuted claims that players called for the meeting, despite multiple players conveying otherwise, Andrews reported in a separate tweet. The mixed messages come just one week after Boylen was promoted to head coach.

Boylen is respected across the league and is known as a longtime assistant who’s spent time on several NBA teams, including seasons under Gregg Popovich on the Spurs from 2013-15. He’s pushed his players to tough standards during long practices and expects the very best out of each of them.

“We’ve had some running . . . some running,” Zach LaVine said Friday, according to Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times. “It’s OK. [Boylen] wants to make his mark. You have to understand that. I think things will slow up as the season goes on.”

In some ways, Boylen’s approach resembles the hard-nosed, competitive nature that former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau had. It can rub some players the wrong way, but it can also lead to success with the right pieces in place.

“Because I’m direct and honest, and they’re going to know exactly where they stand in every moment, every day,” Boylen said, according to Cowley. “The great guys I worked for, that’s what they do, and that’s what I want to do. These guys know that. They know how I operate, and I’ve operated that way since I’ve been here. Direct and honest. Nobody likes to be told the truth when it’s not good for them, but at the end of the day, they know deep down inside that it’s what they needed to hear.”

Boylen’s decision to pull his starting five less than three minutes into the second half on Saturday raised some eyebrows, but he ultimately felt the team wasn’t giving an acceptable effort.

“I think your play is embarrassing,” Boylen said after the game, according to Andrews. “… I worked for [Spurs head coach] Gregg Popovich. He subbed five guys a ton of times. Nobody says a word to him about it. He felt that was best for the team. I felt that was best for the team where we were at. I wanted to give the other guys a chance to see if they could right the ship a little bit. If I don’t like the five guys out there, if I don’t like the combination, I’m going to look at a new combination. Take them all out, let them sit there and think about it.”

The Bulls have played without Kris Dunn and Bobby Portis, both of whom are nursing injuries, but Boylen expects the team to work together and give a better effort going forward. Sunday’s extensive meeting allowed those on both sides to state their grievances and clear the air.

“I thought it was very productive,” center Wendell Carter Jr. said, as relayed by Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic. “The big, main topic for that whole meeting was being truthfully honest and direct. I feel like everybody was very direct with one another, very honest. Everybody told each other how we really, really feel about what happened last night, how we feel about each other in terms of the team, how we feel about everybody as a whole.”

Chicago has games against the Kings, Magic and Spurs scheduled for the upcoming week. The Bulls hold a 6-21 record (second-worst in the league) through the season’s first 27 games.