CHICAGO — Bobby Portis was sitting courtside at United Center on Saturday, a few moments before tipoff. The Chicago Bulls’ arena went dark, the intro music – that final vestige of the Michael Jordan era – swelled, and Portis’ mental prep kicked in as it had so many times before.
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Wake up, Bobby. Your new team, the Washington Wizards, already has been introduced. You’re on the visitors’ bench and all those Bulls buddies you’ve known for so long, they’re the bad guys now.
Cut Portis some slack. Getting traded is tough enough, a slap of reality and rejection that in many cases the player never saw coming. Going through that, experiencing all the emotion it triggers, is compounded when a schedule quirk puts you 72 hours later right back in the same building.
Some players get angry when they get traded. Some are happy. Some get depressed. Porter, by the time he emerged from the other locker room Saturday, still was a little disoriented.
“It was very weird, man,” Portis said after Washington’s 134-125 victory. “I’m sitting there, hearing the starting lineups, hearing the famous song … Hearing that, I’m just imagining myself getting ready to play somebody else, not [line up against] the Bulls.
“I check into the game and I see all my buddies on the other side of the court. Also weird.”
You say it’s a game, they say it’s a business. That’s half of an old line from North Dallas Forty, but it’s hardly sport-specific and seldom applies more to the NBA than in the days immediately before and after the February trade deadline.
Minutes before Chicago faced New Orleans on Wednesday night, with the hoops world anticipating an Anthony Davis trade, Portis and Jabari Parker were the ones learning they were dealt to the Wizards. The Bulls preferred wing Otto Porter Jr.
Done. See ya.
That’s how a fellow like Portis – with a motor that revs high, a frequently off-kilter look in his eyes and a stunning dress suit that, metaphorically, bled Bulls red the way he did – can wind up feeling a little out of body.
And for a minute, a bit betrayed.
“Yeah,” Portis said. “Obviously I got my first taste of the business side of basketball. You don’t really get your way all the time. I have to roll with it now. I was hurt the last 48 hours, but when I got into the game [against Cleveland on Saturday, PHL time], those hurt emotions went away.
“I took it really tough. Didn’t see it coming … I was seeing all the things on Twitter, people kept @-ing me. I never thought I would get traded. But that’s basketball.”
Actually, the basketball helped both Portis and Parker. The game against the Cavaliers was a balm, Portis scoring 30 points in 27 minutes off Washington’s bench and Parker chipping in seven points, 11 rebounds and nine assists in an easy victory.
Saturday’s game in Chicago, thanks to the context, had an edge, something the entertainment at United Center sorely has lacked this season. It also offered some closure to the relocated ex-Bulls – the team honored both in a tribute video during the first timeout – and a chance to channel more robust emotions.
Parker had only been with the Bulls for this season’s first 55 games, a rocky relationship that started with his happy free-agent signing in July but spiraled over to a cold war with his coaches, first Fred Hoiberg and then replacement Jim Boylen.
Parker’s hide is tough, though, thickened through a pair of ACL blowouts and comebacks with the Bucks and this hired-gun half season in his Windy City hometown. He was more matter-of-fact Saturday, speaking loudest with a forceful, energetic performance: 20 points on 9-of-15 shooting with a career-best six dunks.
“We’re going to use him how we’ve used him the last couple games,” said Wizards coach Scott Brooks. “We feel like this is his best [contribution] to our team, being a backup ‘point forward.’ Attacking and making plays.
“We need a guy like that. Give Ernie [Grunfeld, Washington GM] a lot of credit … We changed the way we have to think. With [injured point guard John Wall] being out the majority of next year, we got a couple of guys who can give us some scoring the rest of this year.”
Portis came in too amped, barking at the Bulls bench after a chase-down block of Wayne Selden at the end of the first quarter and muscling a couple of shots that needed touch. But he finished with 10 points, 12 boards, four assists and a pair of blocks. By night’s end, he sounded ready to swap out his “Bull for life” outlook for something beginning with a W.
“That’s part of being an NBA player,” said Brooks, a journeyman point guard as a player. “I wanted to be a Sixer for life. Then a Timberwolf for life. And then a Rocket for life. Then a Maverick for life. And then a Knick for life. Then Cleveland for life. And then I wanted to be in L.A. for life. And now I’m here.
“It’s just part of it. You play and you play as hard as you can for your organization. Things happen, and you have to move on to the next place.”
Porter scored 17 against his former team, but missed 9-of-15 shots. At Brooklyn on Friday, he was better: 18 points (7-9 FGs), including four three-pointers. But he doesn’t run as hot as Portis, and he tends to be quieter than Parker.
The Bulls’ run of remember-when games continues Monday when the Milwaukee Bucks drive down I-94 with their trade-deadline upgrade, Nikola Mirotic. Mirotic, acquired from New Orleans Thursday, has been gone for a year but has yet to play at United Center (the Bulls and Pelicans were done with their series before last season’s swap and Mirotic was hurt when New Orleans visited Thursday).
Two days later, Memphis comes in with longtime fan favorite Joakim Noah. Noah has played once in Chicago, just a few months after signing with New York as a free agent in 2016, but that’s it. He had his best game in years Saturday with 19 points and 14 rebounds off the bench as Memphis beat New Orleans.