Bobby Portis flexes his way into rotational role for Bulls

Feb 06, 2018 | by K.C. Johnson, Chicago Tribune

Here’s an early Friday flex alert: Bobby Portis gets to face Taj Gibson.

“That’s going to be fun,” Portis said, smiling. “There’s going to be a lot of trash talk.”

Portis learned plenty from Gibson before the Bulls traded the latter to the Thunder last February. Gibson subsequently signed with the Timberwolves in free agency, and his return to the United Center, while secondary to Jimmy Butler’s first return, almost certainly will warrant a video tribute as well.

Gibson didn’t flex to the crowd following big moments, as Portis does. But Portis soaked up something more selfless from the low-maintenance veteran.

“Taj and Joakim (Noah) always preached to me about staying locked in, not worrying about trades and things like that and playing hard no matter your role,” Portis said. “I’m a team-first guy.

“Starting or coming off the bench, I’m going to try to be productive. My role isn’t going to stop how I play. I’m still going to be aggressive.”

Portis posted his second straight double-double in his first start, sinking a critical 3-pointer late in the Bulls’ epic collapse to the Kings on Monday night. His reward will be to take a seat behind Lauri Markkanen, who missed the last three games for the birth of his first child.

Portis gets it. Beyond Markkanen’s obvious talent, Portis heeds the lessons he learned from Gibson and others. He also understands that management is using this first rebuilding season to identify who fits moving forward.

Portis’ career-high averages of 12.2 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.7 assists, not to mention management picking him over Nikola Mirotic, answer that question.

“I finally got my chance to really play,” Portis said. “It has been fun. Flex my arms a little bit like (when) I was in college, get back to my old self.

”I have to continue to work and get better. I feel the sky is the limit for me because of how hard I work.”

Coach Fred Hoiberg has praised Portis throughout this season while also citing shot selection and overall consistency as areas in which he can improve. Portis doesn’t take such words personally.

Like Gibson, he’s settling into being a team-first guy.

“It has been fun to play with this group of guys because we’re all so unselfish and trying to win, trying to get better,” Portis said. “That’s the best thing about this year. We’re going to find out our strengths and weaknesses so we can take those into the offseason and keep working.”

Portis began this season on the sideline, suspended for eight games for punching Mirotic in the face during an Oct. 17 practice. He apologized and moved on, never looking back.

He’s taking the same approach to the Bulls’ current seven-game losing streak, three short of the season-high slide that dropped them to 3-20 at the time.

“I’m confident we’re going to pull out of this one like we pulled out of that one because we work our tails off and we’re all committed to one another,” Portis said. “One thing I’ve learned in this league is it’s tough to win. We’re missing two big players. That’s not an excuse, but them coming back will help. Nobody is hanging their heads.”

Flex on that.