Chicago Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic doesn't want to play on the same team as Bobby Portis, according to Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times, after Portis punched Mirotic in the face Oct. 17 during an altercation at practice. But his teammates are reportedly taking Portis' side in the matter.
As Cowley wrote: "According to at least two Bulls players, the ultimatum issued by Mirotic and his camp that either he or Portis has to go is carrying zero weight. If anything, it has further entrenched Portis with his teammates with one telling the Sun-Times, 'This is Niko's problem now.'"
Mirotic is still recovering from Portis' punch, which sent him to the hospital with a concussion and two broken bones and resulted in an eight-game suspension for Portis. Mirotic, who is still likely weeks away from returning to action, reportedly isn't happy that Portis has returned to the court before him, according to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune. Mirotic also hasn't had much contact with his teammates since the incident.
While the other Bulls haven't excused Portis' actions, they reportedly sensed an altercation looming, per Crowley:
"To a man, Portis punching a teammate was wrong. There's not one Bulls player disputing that. But as the Sun-Times initially reported, there continues to be a lingering sense that Mirotic came into training camp with a feeling of entitlement, and that was not sitting well with many of his younger teammates.
"When he made an aggressive motion toward Portis—not the first time the two have had issues with each other in practice over the years—the 22-year-old Portis obviously had enough."
Portis' teammates reportedly felt he has made efforts to repair the situation, which included texting and calling Mirotic, though Mirotic hasn't responded and the pair still haven't spoken.
Portis told reporters Tuesday:
"I just let bygones be bygones with that. I can't control that. Only thing I can control is myself at this point. I'm not worried about who goes, who stays. Only thing I'm worried about is coming in trying to play at the highest level possible. I'm living my dream right now. This is my dream. I've always wanted to play in the NBA. I'm here, and that's all I want to do at this point."
Portis served as the backup to promising power forward Lauri Markkanen on Tuesday evening in his return and made a major impact, notching 21 points, 13 rebounds and four assists in 24 minutes of game time.
Publicly, the Bulls have favored diplomacy. Center Robin Lopez told Johnson:
"Obviously, that's a difficult situation. The consequences aren't what you want to happen. Guys understand that there are scuffles. Sometimes, these things happen. But we know the punch shouldn't have been thrown. We saw the result from that. As we mentioned before, our job as teammates is to make sure we try and mend that relationship as much as possible."
Privately, however, the players may see things differently. In Portis, his teammates reportedly see "a guy that has put in all the work this summer, is a better teammate and is just more liked," according to Cowley.
The implication of that report seems to be clear: If sides are forced to be drawn, the Bulls' players are on Team Portis.