It was hard to tell by Wednesday evening who was lying, who was telling the truth or if someone was just dealing with hurt feelings.
According to a report in the afternoon, former Bulls forward Bobby Portis implied that general manager Gar Forman had lied to him about whether the Bulls would be trading him. But later in the day, Portis walked back his statements and said he was over the drama from last week, when the Bulls dealt him and Jabari Parker to the Wizards for forward Otto Porter Jr.
So which side to believe? That’s the problem with Bulls basketball these days — there are sides far too often. Players and coaches can’t quietly leave without shots fired from one side or the other — or both. In the last five years, coaches Tom Thibodeau and Fred Hoiberg, center Joakim Noah, forwards Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng, guards Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler and now Portis have all been at the center of messy breakups.
Time has healed some of those wounds. Some, not even close. The Thibodeau and Butler departures were the most volatile, with chairman Jerry Reinsdorf releasing a statement about Thibodeau after his firing, knowing Thibodeau had a clause in his contract that prevented him from firing back. After Butler was traded to the Timberwolves on draft night in 2017, his former trainer claimed the Bulls had “the worst culture in the league” and that he had “met drug dealers with better morals than their GM.”
Since Portis’ trade — which was said to have taken him by surprise — Forman’s version of events has been consistent. He never promises a player will or won’t be traded, he has told the Sun-Times repeatedly, and the market is fluid enough to where decisions can change with one phone call.
Either way, the Bulls have a serious issue on their hands. When they try adding a big-name free agent at some point during this rebuild, their reputation may make it difficult.
Asked about last week’s trade, coach Jim Boylen said, “People were treated with respect, and those situations are always difficult. I thought we handled a really difficult situation as well as you can handle it.”
But what about the perception problem? When the time comes, will Boylen be able to sell a big-name player on the Bulls’ culture?
“Absolutely, absolutely, and I think our guys will communicate it, too, at the appropriate time,” he said. “I’ve said it before —our spirit is very, very good, so I feel comfortable sitting across the table from anybody about where we’re going and what we’re doing. We’ve got a young, exciting group. Otto is a huge addition, and Lauri Markkanen is becoming who we thought he could become. It’s good.”
Coincidentally, Noah was in town with the Grizzlies on Wednesday. He was asked for his thoughts on what’s happening with his former team.
“It’s the least of my worries,” he said. “I know what the Bulls mean to this city, and basketball is about winning and losing games, and they’ve got a young squad and trying to figure it out. When you play in a big market, there’s a high demand, but it’s just important to realize it’s never as good as people say it is, [and] it’s never as bad as people say it is.”
The Bulls had better hope that’s the case.