INDIANAPOLIS — The notion that Nikola Mirotic might never wear a Bulls jersey again came to an abrupt end Wednesday. He was in full uniform on the bench for the game against the Pacers.
The idea that Mirotic might never play for the Bulls again could end Friday in Charlotte.
Coach Fred Hoiberg said that Mirotic came out of practice Tuesday with no setbacks, then went through the morning shootaround hours before the game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
If he holds up well after the scheduled practice Thursday in Charlotte, the Bulls will welcome him back with open arms.
“The biggest thing is getting through the practice,’’ Hoiberg said. “We feel he has passed everything at this point. Wanted to get him one more practice [in Charlotte]. That’s what was determined by everybody. If he gets through practice, then he’ll be able to play [against the Hornets]. It’s about setting a minute plan and sticking to that.’’
It will be Mirotic’s regular-season debut and — maybe even more important — another step in his healing with the team.
Mirotic made headlines for all the wrong reasons Oct. 17, getting into a practice altercation with teammate Bobby Portis, whose punch put him in a hospital with two broken facial bones and a concussion.
The situation appeared dire last month, when Mirotic and his camp told the Bulls’ front office that it had to choose between him and Portis.
Vice president of basketball operations John Paxson didn’t blink, making it clear that the Bulls would do what was best for the organization. And with no trade market for either player, the hope was time would repair the situation, and it seemingly has.
Mirotic and Portis haven’t spoken off the court, but they have remained professional on it.
“I’ve always been a good teammate,’’ Mirotic said.
Hoiberg agreed with that statement. When asked if he was concerned that Mirotic might take the approach of just worrying about his own numbers upon returning, Hoiberg said, “I don’t think so. I think if you’ve seen everything as far as Niko’s comments are concerned, all he has talked about is the team. All the conversations we’ve had with him as well, that’s been the main thing.
“He wanted to be out there for them in practice. He wanted to be on the bench during the game supporting them. And then once he is ready to play again, talked about doing whatever it takes to get us going and get the team a win.’’
Hoiberg was sad to hear that Hornets coach Steve Clifford was taking a leave of absence “for the immediate future’’ for health concerns and reached out to him.
“I did exchange text messages with Steve,’’ Hoiberg said. “Obviously, Steve is one of the truly good guys in this business. You hope everything is OK with him, that things check out fine and that he’s back on the bench soon.’’
Associate head coach Stephen Silas will take over in Clifford’s absence.
Follow me on Twitter @suntimes_hoops.