John Paxson addresses the latest Nikola Mirotic-Bobby Portis drama
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Bulls vice president of basketball operations John Paxson didn’t call an impromptu news conference Friday at the Advocate Center to offer details about forward Nikola Mirotic’s line-in-the-sand demand or to defend the franchise in some way.
Instead, Paxson wanted to provide a bit of transparency, something that has been in short supply in the organization in recent years. That’s exactly what he did.
The Sun-Times reported Thursday that Mirotic and his representatives had contacted the Bulls leading up to the game against the Hawks and had given them a ‘‘me or him’’ ultimatum, with Mirotic insisting he or Bobby Portis be gone by the time he is ready to return to action.
Mirotic would have to waive his no-trade clause if the Bulls elect to keep Portis, and he couldn’t be dealt until mid-January. But that doesn’t seem to be an obstacle for him — not after Portis put him in the hospital with a punch that broke two bones in his face and gave him a concussion.
‘‘I’m not going to get into any specifics about what discussions we have had with any agents and players,’’ Paxson said. ‘‘What I do want to say is we’re really sensitive to this entire issue and what Niko is going through physically and mentally. We don’t have all the answers today. But just like in anything, as an organization, we have to do what’s in our best interests. That’s the bottom line. And so we will.
‘‘It’s not something that’s going to be resolved overnight. We’re going to continue to communicate with Niko and his representatives and find our way through this.’’
Translation: The Bulls aren’t going to be held hostage by trade demands until they give the situation every opportunity to work itself out.
The Bulls suspended Portis for the first eight games for his actions, and things might move forward this weekend with Mirotic cleared for some light activity. That activity, however, must be supervised by the Bulls.
A source told the Sun-Times that Mirotic doesn’t think Portis’ punishment matches the damage done to his season, but Paxson insisted that’s not the case.
‘‘I would disagree with that,’’ Paxson said, referring to the idea that the Bulls don’t understand the severity of what Portis did. ‘‘We’ve reached out to Niko. Our medical staff is in contact with him every day. We want to get him back.
‘‘In doling out the punishment to Bobby, that’s fairly unprecedented, too, what we did. Like I told you last week, we consulted with the league to make sure we were going about it the right way. We’re confident with what we did.
‘‘I’ve never been in Niko’s position where something like that happens. We are trying to understand it and work with him and his people, but we can’t just do something for the sake of doing it.’’
When asked whether he thought the situation could have a happy ending, Paxson didn’t go that far.
‘‘I don’t know right now,’’ he said. ‘‘Your hope is that, as time goes on, there can be some communication where it gets resolved. But this is a unique situation; it really is. That’s why I say we don’t have all the answers today and are not sure where it’s exactly going to go.’’
NOTE: The Bulls picked up the fourth-year options on forward Bobby Portis and guards Jerian Grant and Cameron Payne and the third-year options on guards Kris Dunn and Denzel Valentine. That means the players are under contract through the 2018-19 season.
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