Bulls’ Nikola Mirotic opens up in exclusive on eve of season debut

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Someday soon, Nikola Mirotic will tell his side of the Oct. 17 altercation in practice with Bobby Portis — the one that begot an eight-game suspension for Portis and a hospital trip for Mirotic.

In the meantime, as he gets set to make his season debut Friday against the Hornets, Mirotic wants to make it clear that while he respects the opinions of his teammates, he’s not interested in what they think about him and how he handled his offseason.

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The Sun-Times reported last month that before Portis’ punch left Mirotic with two broken facial bones and a concussion, teammates felt Mirotic arrived at training camp with a sense of entitlement.

Chicago Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic is expected to make his season debut Friday.
| Tony Dejak/AP

Though many of the young Bulls were playing together at the Advocate Center on a daily basis, Mirotic was in the weight room, opting to follow his own program.

He understands that his approach irritated some teammates but says they need to move on.

“There’s nothing I would change right now,’’ Mirotic said Thursday. “The guys can think whatever they want, but this is my job, too. This is my position, and, to be honest, I’m not saying I don’t care what my teammates think, but they have to understand me, too. I’m not regretting any decisions I made this summer.

“I wanted to get stronger. I gained 20 pounds, was feeling great. Unfortunately what happened [with Portis] happened, but I was going in the right direction. I know that because I won my spot and was named the starter, so it means I did something right this summer.’’

 

Mirotic pointed out that two summers ago, he played pickup almost daily, went off to the Olympics, then returned in late August to play more pickup games with his teammates.

The results?

“I’m not saying it didn’t help me, but there are times in the offseason where you just need to work on yourself,’’ Mirotic said. “Like for me this summer, it was about getting stronger. They wanted me stronger. I was not practicing with the team, but I was side-working on my strength.’’

Mirotic stressed that his decision to work on his strength had to do with the fact that Bulls management initially had no plans to name him the starter.

It was going to be rookie Lauri Markkanen’s job, but when he arrived tired from his summer-basketball duty — plus he was slowed by a bad back — the starting nod went to Mirotic.

“I don’t think the idea was for me to start during the summer,’’ Mirotic said. “But when I came to camp and they saw me, the shape I was in, the way I was working, I think they had to change their idea, and I was named the starter.’’

Next up for Mirotic is to start playing again, then who knows after that.

He appreciated that vice president of basketball operations John Paxson insisted there was no desire to trade Mirotic, even with Mirotic’s camp issuing an ultimatum that he or Portis had to go, but he also knows that if he can help this 3-20 team start winning, his value will start rising.

“That’s important that John is saying that because they’re the people that drafted me, brought me here,’’ Mirotic said. “My thinking is get back, play well. When the [trade] deadline comes closer, this is a business, and I know my name will be out there.

“Like they say, they’re always going to do what’s best for the team.’’

Follow me on Twitter @suntimes_hoops.

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com