Portis' big year has a Bulls extension on tap

By: Dudley E. Dawson
Published: Monday, May 21, 2018
Former Arkansas basketball player and Chicago Bulls power forward Bobby Portis speaks to reporters during a press conference, Monday, May 21, 2018 at Shadow Valley Country Club in Rogers.
Photo by Charlie Kaijo
Former Arkansas basketball player and Chicago Bulls power forward Bobby Portis speaks to reporters during a press conference, Monday, May 21, 2018 at Shadow Valley Country Club in Rogers.

— A 2017-2018 season that began for Bobby Portis with an eight game suspension has the former Arkansas standout set for a new contract. Portis completed the season as the best of his three-year Chicago career.

Portis (6-11, 248) was on hand for the Mike Anderson Foundation Golf Tournament in Rogers Monday. He found a niche for himself as the Bulls’ sixth man while averaging 13.2 points, 6.8 rebounds and 22.5 minutes of action per contest while playing in 72 games. All were career highs.

“I started to see my game improve probably about my fifth game back when I had 20 (points) and (10 rebounds),” Portis said. “… I think some people kind of thought, 'Oh, that was just his first two games back. He had something to prove.' But I continued that consistency all year and that helped me become one of the long-term pieces for the Bulls' future.”

That future seemed in doubt at the start of the season after a practice fracas between Portis and teammate Nikola Mirotic resulted in Mirotic suffering a concussion, a broken jaw and facial fractures that would keep him out of action several weeks.

The Bulls handed Portis the eight-game suspension, Mirotic missed the first 23 games of the season and there was speculation that the two would not be teammates long with one of them expected to be dealt.

Although the two were back together on the floor for 30 games, Mirotic requested a trade and was eventually shipped out of town to New Orleans by Chicago general manager John Paxon.

“Me and Jon Paxton texted a lot,” Portis said. “He texted me after they made the trade and told me he wanted to keep me because he feels like I'm a guy they believe in the most, that they wanted around. He told me to keep working as hard as I can and keep getting better.

“One thing about this league, the guys that work get rewarded. That's what he always preaches. I'm going to keep working as hard as I can.”

Portis was able to purchase his mom Tina Edwards her dream home and surprise her and little brothers Jarrod, Jared and Jamaal with it on Mother’s Day this year. He stressed his strong support system helped him get through the tough times early in the season.

“Just having a strong background, having a strong mother, having strong little brothers and having a strong support system behind me helps,” Portis said. “Even though the season started off really tough, I stayed grounded and had people around me, I worked as hard as I could to prepare for the season and it carried over into the year.”

The fact that he had a more defined role this season helped out a lot for Portis, a former Little Rock Hall standout.

“I was a lot more comfortable out there and it is a lot easier when you know you are going to play 20 to 25 minutes a game,” Portis said. “ I knew I was going to get in around the four-minute mark of the first quarter and I had to prepare myself for that. It was fun, I had a good year this year, but I am looking forward to an even better one.”

While he enjoyed the sixth man role, Portis understandably wants to be in the starting five.

“I get that question in like every interview I do,” Portis said. “Fortunately I have always been a team player, a team-first guy, but it has been fun to just go out there and get some reps and get some experience. Right now I am creating my role. Being the sixth man, being a scorer off the bench is a pretty good gig, getting my shots up and getting my chance to just go out there and ball out.

“That’s not a bad gig at all, but everybody wants to be a starter and I do, too.”

Portis shot 47.1 percent from the field, 76.9 percent from the line and an impressive 35.9 percent from beyond the three-point arc.

“It's very big,” Portis said of his 3-point shooting. “With the NBA game today, all bigs are putting the ball on the floor and making plays for their teammates and shooting threes. It's something I've been doing for a long time. I've just started making a lot more and being more consistent with it.

Portis said that he and the Bulls have been working on getting an extension of his rookie contract, which has one year left on it.

“I am eligible for an extension and we have been talking about it for about a month now,” Portis said. “Hopefully we can come to terms on it.”

Portis was the SEC Player of the Year his last season with the Razorbacks and the first player in school history to ever to have 1,000 points and 500 rebounds by the end of his sophomore season. He feels like he has earned that extension.

“Yes, I feel like I have put myself in great position,” Portis said. “I come to the gym every day and they know what they are going to get out of me each and every game. Come to the gym early and leave late. I work as hard as I can. I’m the hardest-working player on the team, blue -collar player and I fit the city. We meet somewhere in the middle somewhere - me and the city does.

“I feel like we’ll get everything worked out and if not I will play my fourth year and still try to ball out as much as possible.”

He wants to stay in Chicago because he believes he fits with the city’s mentality.

“I love it,” Portis said. “It is a blue collar city…where people give it their all. They have stayed behind me my first two years and anytime I check in the game the crowd goes wild. I’m out there on the court doing my thing and I see people and kids in the crowd flexing with me. So it is a great feeling I have wanted my whole life and hopefully we can keep this thing going.”

Portis splits his off-season between Chicago, Los Angeles, Little Rock and Fayetteville. All have something for him.

“I stay in Chicago, LA and Little Rock and go back and forth between those three,” Portis said. “My trainer is in LA and I am a lot and I’m there working out and getting my body prepared for the season.

“I work out in Chicago with the Bulls sometimes Monday through Thursday and we have the weekends off and if I have a weekend off I go to Little Rock to see my mom or to come up here and see my girl.”

Portis noted he had conversations with current Arkansas center Daniel Gafford before the NBA Draft, but he tried not to influence his decision on whether to turn pro or not.

“He did, he talked to me a little bit, but I was trying too stay out of it on whether he wanted to leave or stay and things like that,” Portis said. “I want people to make their own decision. Ultimately you have to live with it. I didn’t want anybody coming back one day and things didn’t go the right way and they want to blame somebody else. I like people to make their own decisions for themselves.”

He knows how big it was for Arkansas that Gafford came back to play his sophomore year as Portis did.

Arkansas has just three scholarship players back from last season’s 23-12 squad as the program went to the NCAA Tournament for the third time in the last four seasons.

“Very big for the program as a whole,” Portis said. “Like you said we have six or seven new guys…nine, that’s even more, so with nine new players coming in, he’ll be one of our most experienced players. He’s been through it, been to the NCAA Tournament, so he can lead those guys in the right direction.

“I think the biggest thing with me is that I came back I had already been through the fire and I had already seen everything and I was ready to lead and now he can be that guy for them.”

He’s a big fan of Gafford.

“He has a tremendous upside, can run, can run, run with the best of them, jump with the best of them,” Portis said. “…We are two different players, but at the same time we are still Hogs and we still have to go out there and lead.

“He’ll be our best player and he’ll have to go out and learn how to lead, learn how to put the guys in the right direction and be that guy.”

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