Nikola Mirotic has to go; Bulls players side with Bobby Portis

According to several players, the ultimatum issued by Nikola Mirotic — either Bobby Portis goes or he goes — carries no weight. If anything, it has solidified Portis’ standing with his teammates. One Bull even said, “This is Niko’s problem now.’’

Mirotic’s aversion arose after Portis punched him in the face during practice Oct. 17. He was hospitalized with two broken bones in his face and a concussion just days after being named a starter over Portis.

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Fresh off an 8-game suspension, Bobby Portis makes an instant impact

Portis, who was suspended eight games, made his return Tuesday in the Bulls’ 119-114 road loss against the Raptors. He helped the Bulls rally from a 23-point deficit to make it a two-possession game late in the fourth quarter.

Coming off the bench, Portis had a team-high 21 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in 24 minutes. His performance, however, had no bearing on his teammates’ opinions.

“We know what goes on in this locker room,’’ guard Justin Holiday said last week.

And that’s the problem with this situation. Outsiders have tried to explain what should happen and how the Bulls’ locker room should function, forgetting that there’s a different reality in the locker room.

To a man, the players agree that Portis’ actions were wrong. No Bull disputes that. But there’s a lingering sense that Mirotic came into training camp with a feeling of entitlement, which did not sit well with many of his younger teammates.

Mirotic and Portis had some history, so when Mirotic made an aggressive move toward him, Portis, 22, obviously had enough.

That was three weeks ago.

Portis tried to reach out to Mirotic via text and in a message but received no response. That’s why players say it’s obvious that Mirotic, 26, has to go.

The feeling is Portis has done his part to repair things, and he’s seen as someone who has put in all the work this summer and is a better teammate. Plus, he’s just more liked by his teammates. Choosing Mirotic over Portis would disrupt a chemistry that has been building since the front office made the decision to rebuild by trading Jimmy Butler in June.

Is it fair that Mirotic seems like the odd man out unless he changes his tune? Who said locker-room justice is fair?

“I just want to be the best teammate, best player possible for the team,’’ Portis said after his season debut. “I feel like my role on this team is if the team is down, I’ve got to bring the energy for us. That’s what Fred [Hoiberg] and my teammates expect from me. I’m a very energetic guy, I’m a very passionate guy and I’m a competitor, so I live by those three things, and if I’m not doing those, I’m doing myself a [disservice] and my teammates a [disservice].’’

That self-assessment carries weight with his teammates, who appear to have taken a side in the matter.

Follow me on Twitter @suntimes_hoops.

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com

Previously from Sports