Is Bulls big man Robin Lopez being showcased lately? Mum’s the word
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Bulls center Robin Lopez is no ‘‘jackass.’’
Lopez made that clear Tuesday when he discussed the balance of being a mentor to younger big men while knowing they are there to take his minutes and playing time.
‘‘It’s easy for me, honestly,’’ Lopez said, pointing out the veterans who helped him when he was fresh out of Stanford in the 2008-09 season. ‘‘Yeah, I’ve been really fortunate in the league. I’ve had a lot of great veterans myself. But even if I hadn’t, I have a great joy playing with these guys, being around these guys. We have a great group of guys, a great group of teammates. I’d be a huge jackass if I weren’t to do that, you know?’’
Not that things have been easy for Lopez.
Publicly, Lopez said all the right things last season, when he went from being a starter to a guy who barely was playing for a while. Privately, however, he was frustrated that losing games appeared to be the Bulls’ priority.
His hope was that this season would be a bit different, even after the Bulls drafted Duke big man Wendell Carter Jr. with the seventh overall pick and made him the starting center in training camp. Lopez would work with the backups and stabilize what was expected to be an inexperienced second unit.
Lopez did that for the first three games of the regular season, but the Bulls suddenly felt the need to justify big man Cristiano Felicio’s $8 million-plus salary, so Lopez didn’t play in six of the next seven games.
Coach Fred Hoiberg had no choice but to go with Lopez in the Bulls’ double-overtime victory last week against the Knicks because Carter was being manhandled by Enes Kanter and Felicio was a minus-11 in 18 minutes. Lopez has been playing key minutes ever since.
It has been a win-win situation for the Bulls, considering they’ve been playing better and at the same time showcasing Lopez for a possible trade.
‘‘We’re just looking at Robin,’’ Hoiberg said, downplaying the idea there’s some showcasing going on. ‘‘Just so many positives with Robin.’’
One of them is that he’s in the final year of a contract in which he is making $14.3 million this season. To possible suitors, he can add toughness off the bench without a long-term commitment.
‘‘Honestly, it’s not something I’ve been thinking about,’’ Lopez said when he was asked about the trade talk. ‘‘I’ve always found that I kind of play best when I go out there and play unencumbered or unhampered by things like that.’’
That doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to be in a winning situation. It ideally would be with the Bulls, but that seems to be a bit of a reach right now.
‘‘We want that to be us,’’ Lopez said of playing for a playoff team. ‘‘I’m a competitive guy. I want to be winning wherever I am.’’