Bulls power forward Bobby Portis can’t see himself in a different NBA jersey.
Not next season, not ever if you listened to him Tuesday.
But that allegiance could be put to the test in July.
With the Bulls and Portis unable to agree on an extension on his rookie deal by the Monday deadline, Portis will play out the 2018-19 season and become a restricted free agent next offseason.
“No distraction at all,” Portis said. “I play this game because I love it. Obviously, you want to make as much money as possible to help your family. But I started playing basketball because it’s fun to me and I loved it. I still have that same passion, that same heart every night I go out there.
“My game won’t change. I’m still going to give it all I got.’’
The Sun-Times reported Monday that despite the inability to reach a deal, talks were amicable throughout, and both sides confirmed that.
Vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said Tuesday that “we value Bobby Portis’’ and that he would be a top priority in the offseason.
It’s a gamble for the Bulls, but it’s also smart business.
The 2019 free-agent class — restricted and unrestricted — has the potential to be star-studded. Many teams are still trying to get out of the corner they painted themselves into with their rampant spending in the 2016 offseason, so the game of chicken has begun.
If Portis has a great season and the outside market values him, the Bulls still have the right to match any offer and keep him. The Bulls went through the same process with Zach LaVine and Nikola Mirotic the last two offseasons.
Both were restricted free agents, and though Mirotic never received an offer to match, the Bulls opted to match the four-year, $78 million offer the Kings made to LaVine in July.
Portis was watching.
“Normally, that’s how it goes,’’ Portis said. “But with me, I couldn’t see myself in any other jersey. Obviously, I got Bulls DNA. Me and the city have a love connection somewhere. At the same time, I just enjoy playing for the Bulls. Hopefully in the spring, things can work out.’’
Portis, taken 22nd in the 2015 draft, has been inserted into the starting lineup and has a chance to become a breakout player this season.
In five preseason games, Portis was the second-leading scorer, averaging 17 points. Even when Lauri Markkanen (right elbow) returns and takes back that starting spot, Portis plans to be a Sixth Man of the Year candidate, bringing energy and scoring with the second unit.
“Bobby is a true pro,’’ coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s always reliable with his energy and with his effort, and he’s going to continue to play that way.’’