Despite Bobby Portis’s totally sincere apology and 100 percent earnest attempts at reconciliation, Nikola Mirotic is apparently not ready to move forward as Portis’s teammate following Portis punching a crater into his face: Mirotic has reportedly told the Bulls he’d prefer to be traded if the team is determined to keep Portis around. From Vincent Goodwill of NBC Sports Chicago:
Mirotic prefers a trade out of Chicago—which won’t be available to the Bulls until mid-January at the earliest because he was a free agent this summer—and is willing to waive his no-trade clause to do so, sources tell NBCSportsChicago.com.
It’s been described by one source as “one of them has to go” and the Bulls are aware of the tenuous situation. Mirotic agreed to a two-year contract with the Bulls on the eve of training camp, with the second year being a team option.
Mirotic has the no-trade clause because of the structure of his current deal, which runs this year and next, with the second year as a team option. A trade would exempt his next team from holding his Bird Rights, a device that would allow them to offer him a next contract in excess of the team’s existing salary cap space. In the NBA’s current choked cap landscape Bird Rights are nearly as valuable to impending unrestricted free agents as they are to teams, and the current CBA automatically attaches a no-trade clause to contracts of Mirotic’s type for that exact reason. Mirotic’s value probably isn’t such that he’d stand to lose a ton on the free market, but his willingness to give up those Bird Rights tells you, if nothing else, just how effective Portis’s robotic apology was in communicating real contrition. This situation has not resolved.
The fight also happened well before the league-wide deadline for teams to trigger the optional fourth year for players, like Portis, who are on rookie scale contracts. Bobby Portis is mostly a lousy NBA player, and it’s not clear at all that he is or should be in Chicago’s long-term plans, even before we get to the part where he hauled off and socked his teammate in the face during a practice altercation. It would not have been all that surprising to see the Bulls waive Portis outright following the incident—instead, they suspended him for eight games, and proceeded yesterday to pick up his fourth year option.
At first glance that would seem to indicate the Bulls are intent upon keeping Portis, but not so fast: The Bulls also picked up the option on Cameron Payne, a trick exploding fifth metatarsal being passed along among NBA general managers as a practical joke. Holding aside the grim possibility that Gar Forman and John Paxson grabbed up the options on these two bad players as face-saving measures, the Bulls are in no rush to make moves to improve their immediate outlook. Keeping Portis under contract for the time being gives them options, especially given that they won’t have to confront any real him-or-me conflicts until at least January: Mirotic can’t be traded before then, anyway, and the injury from the punch will keep him out for at least another few weeks. Paxson told ESPN the Bulls are “sympathetic to Mirotic’s plight but would have to do what’s best for the organization.” The Bulls can afford to feel things out while Portis and Mirotic are still a long way off from actually sharing a basketball court.
Still, Portis is bad, and what he did is really fucking bad, and his public apology, at least, was half-assed and embarrassing. His piddling trade value, and even more piddling potential as a franchise cornerstone, probably aren’t worth completely alienating Mirotic, one of the very few actually okay and useful players the Bulls have left. There’s a future in which the Bulls use cap space next summer to add good veterans to their squad, and use Bird Rights the following summer to outbid other teams for Mirotic’s services, but it looks, for now, like that future depends upon them moving on from Portis. Maybe a little more time will soften Mirotic’s position, or give Portis a chance to take a second crack at reconciliation. If not, the Bulls will have to choose between the puncher and the punched.