MORRISSEY: Portis the Puncher, not Mirotic the Punched, should go
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A cop once told me he always would arrest the loser in a bar fight — usually because the winner was long gone and the defeated wasn’t, but also because there didn’t figure to be a lot of resistance.
It’s that kind of insult-to-injury misfortune Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic apparently is up against. Mirotic is working out on his own while recovering from two broken facial bones. Those bones were adjusted by the fist of teammate Bobby Portis, whose punch during practice led to an eight-game suspension for Portis and, reportedly, a him-or-me ultimatum to Bulls management from Mirotic.
If that’s what it’s going to come down to — and it sure looks to be headed in that direction — Portis should be the one who gets traded.
That’s not the vibe coming from the Bulls, though. If anything, it’s that Portis has favored-nation status and Mirotic doesn’t. At the time of the incident Oct. 17, the team was quick to point out that both players were at fault, even if Mirotic was the one who was traumatized. That’s not usually how an organization reacts when one player is dealing with a serious injury.
And the Sun-Times’ Joe Cowley reported Wednesday that Portis has the support of the Bulls’ locker room, with one player saying, ‘‘This is Niko’s problem now.’’
All of it goes back to the bar-fight imagery. Who’s really getting punished here?
Two things are troubling. One, Mirotic was a starter and Portis a bench player when the fight occurred, but it feels as though Mirotic is being viewed as more expendable. Two, players shouldn’t get to decide who comes and goes, at least not on a team that isn’t very good. The front office and the coaches should make the call here, not a bunch of players headed for one of the worst records in the NBA.
When did a team become a popularity contest? First we’re told that the NBA is a man’s league and that men sometimes fight. Then Mirotic gets points off because his teammates don’t find him as likable as Portis? Sounds like a mixed message. The only thing that should matter is how you perform in the games.
If the issue is that Portis is the better player, that’s a completely different discussion. But coach Fred Hoiberg made Mirotic a starter over Portis. It follows that Mirotic should be the one the Bulls keep. If merit doesn’t count for something, then nothing does.
Mirotic reportedly has said he no longer can be on the same team as Portis, a perfectly understandable stance. It’s a lot easier to forgive and forget when you’re the puncher, not the punched. It’s not so easy when your face has been rearranged. And it couldn’t have been much fun for Mirotic to hear about how much the Bulls embraced Portis during his suspension.
None of us knows exactly what happened during that ill-fated practice, but there has been enough information shared to suggest that Mirotic wasn’t an innocent before or during the incident. He and Portis had jawed at one another in the past, and other players reportedly were upset that Mirotic had acted like a starter before he was named one.
But that punch. The one who threw it needs a new address.
Mirotic is neither lovable nor beloved. In three seasons, he has averaged 10.8 points and 5.3 rebounds, mostly off the bench, but he has been viewed as soft. Bulls fans seemed excited that Portis had 21 points and 13 rebounds Tuesday in his first game since the suspension ended. It should be noted that fans don’t get a vote, either.
Chemistry is an issue for every team. Maybe the Bulls are worried that rookie Lauri Markkanen will be polluted by a fractious work environment. I’d be more worried he’d get the message that your job as a backup is safe if you punch a starter during a confrontation.
Bulls management wants to be in charge of personnel decisions, and Mirotic seems to be forcing its hand in that regard. Perhaps that will backfire on him. But if getting traded to a team that values you and has a better chance of winning is considered punishment, lots of players would sign up to be similarly punished.
It looks as though the Bulls’ preference would be for both players to remain with the team and coexist. That doesn’t seem likely to happen. Somebody has to go.
Fairness would dictate it be Portis. Does fairness get a vote?
Follow me on Twitter @MorrisseyCST.