CHICAGO — The young, hungry and competitive nature the Bulls sought after choosing to rebuild crossed a line Tuesday when Bobby Portis punched Nikola Mirotic in the face during a practice altercation.
Mirotic, who had won the starting power forward position in advance of Thursday’s season opener at Toronto, suffered a concussion and what the team called “maxillary fractures.” The Bulls added “surgery is likely required.”
A source who spoke to Mirotic after he was released from the hospital said the forward suffered two fractures and placed an early estimate for his absence at “a few weeks, at least.” He possibly will have to wear a mask upon that return.
In their statement, the Bulls said they are “evaluating disciplinary action.” But a source said the team is merely following protocol for all such incidents by communicating with the league office and that Portis will be suspended for multiple games.
That means the team will be down two more rotation players for the short-term on top of injuries to Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, Cameron Payne and Quincy Pondexter. While rookie Lauri Markkanen likely will draw more minutes, coach Fred Hoiberg also could utilize small lineups featuring Justin Holiday and Denzel Valentine at wings and sliding Paul Zipser to power forward.
So much for the good vibes and fresh start that mostly had defined training camp.
According to several witnesses, tensions heightened between Portis and Mirotic during a competitive scrimmage. Several words were exchanged over trips up and down the court. Some shoving escalated matters and Mirotic once moved in Portis’ direction. And then Portis landed the lone punch, which placed Mirotic on the ground for several minutes before his hospital trip.
Mirotic had bulked up to 260 pounds this season to improve both his post play and defense. That weight gain will be challenged by this type of injury, which typically renders a player unable to eat solid food initially.
In that sense, the injury will mirror Mirotic’s February 2016 saga. That’s when a botched appendectomy caused a hematoma that required a second, emergency surgery. Mirotic lost close to 20 pounds then.
Mirotic signed a two-year, $27 million deal that contains a team option for the second season just before the start of training camp. He all along had expressed his desire to return to the Bulls and skipped his Spanish national team commitment for the first time to prepare for this season.
Portis drew consistent raves for his tireless offseason work ethic and reported to camp in great shape. He drew the start in the first exhibition, in part to reward him for his offseason commitment, one source said.