Bulls turn focus to the cleanup after the Mirotic-Portis altercation

SHARE Bulls turn focus to the cleanup after the Mirotic-Portis altercation
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On Tuesday, it was the punch felt throughout the Advocate Center.

On Wednesday, it was time for the attempted cleanup.

One day after Bulls forward Bobby Portis sent Nikola Mirotic to the hospital with a punch to the face during an altercation in practice, the organization suspended Portis for eight games and tried to figure out how to repair the damage.

“I guess anytime you’ve been around this business, you ask your guys to compete and play hard, and basketball is still a physical game,’’ Bulls vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said. “All of our players saw it, they were around it, and it’s a lesson learned. It’s really unfortunate that it happened, and honestly we’re disappointed. It hurts both players, but it hurts our team. And when Bobby and Niko digest it and look at it, they’ll both understand the position they put their teammates in.’’

The Bulls will be short-handed for the opener in Toronto on Thursday night. Coach Fred Hoiberg said rookie Lauri Markkanen would start for Mirotic.

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That’s not all Hoiberg said, however. He admitted that Mirotic and Portis had previous confrontations in practice the last few seasons and maybe they should’ve anticipated an escalation, especially after Mirotic beat out Portis for the starting spot.

“I’ll say this: They have been competitive with each other, as other players on our team have been competitive with each other,’’ Hoiberg said. “They have supported each other with whatever decision is made with our group. Looking back on it, sure, hindsight’s 20/20. Should we have stepped in and stopped practice? Guys, I’ve been a part of this thing as a player. I’ve seen altercations happen every year, every week, every month. You see things that happen on the floor.

“When’s the right time to step in? I saw it on the best teams I played on, where you had that competitive spirit. You have to have it to have any chance at all. So, sure, looking back on it, would we have handled the situation differently? Maybe. I don’t know. But we just didn’t anticipate, obviously, that that would happen in this situation.’’

Portis and Mirotic stayed away from the practice facility Wednesday, but Portis is expected back Friday and will be allowed to practice. There was no word on whether he would appeal the team suspension with the league.

As for Mirotic, he eventually will need surgery, and his timetable for a return is four to six weeks, Paxson said.

Meanwhile, veterans Robin Lopez, Justin Holiday and Quincy Pondexter have met with the team several times since the incident, admitting that the focus is on making sure the “new culture’’ developed this offseason holds together.

“It’s certainly a little deflating,’’ Lopez said, “but everything you guys have heard, people expressing how great this culture has been so far, this summer and into the fall, the majority of that is legitimately true.

“It’s gonna be not only on those two players to mend that confidence, to mend that trust between the two of them, but on the teammates, upon us. Part of that good mojo we have right now is gonna be huge in unifying the two.’’

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