Portis offers a blueprint for what Bulls need from their young players

Fans at the United Center directed a derogatory chant toward Milwaukee forward Bobby Portis late in Sunday's Game 4, after he got tangled up with Zach LaVine.

But this is also a good time for some Portis appreciation. The Bulls' first-round pick in 2015 was streaky and inconsistent when he played in Chicago, not to mention the infamous practice incident that sent a teammate to the hospital.

But now Portis has been to finishing school, so to speak. He joined a talented team in Milwaukee and became an integral piece in the championship run.

When the Bucks are at full strength, Portis tends to keep a minor role off the bench. But he's also been a starter logging major minutes when injuries necessitate a promotion. He's been very good in both roles, as evidenced by the 18 points and 16 rebounds he produced in Game 3 filling in for the injured Khris Middleton.

The Bulls traded Portis to Washington in 2019 in the regrettable Otto Porter deal. But it's probably safe to say Portis wouldn't have reached the level he's at now if he'd stayed with those losing Bulls teams. Joining the Bucks turned his NBA career in a positive direction, without a doubt.

That bring us to the Bulls and how they'll try to inch closer to competing with teams like Milwaukee. They really need Patrick Williams, Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu to make that same transition Portis did, but can't lend them to another team to learn how to be a champion.

The Bulls will be limited in what they can do this summer. They'll have their first-draft pick, No. 18 overall; the midlevel exception (which varies in size depending on whether a team pays the luxury tax or not), and can add players for the minimum salary. That's about it, unless they let LaVine walk as a free agent, which seems unlikely.

They could look to trade one or more of their young players for veterans who might be more capable of helping the Bulls in the playoffs. But Arturas Karnisovas and the basketball operations team may also decide the potential upside of Williams, White and Dosunmu is better than what they could get back in a trade.

Williams has had an interesting series. He finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds in Game 4, played well when the Bulls won Game 2, and was basically a no-show in Games 1 and 3.

"I think I saw what it takes to win in the playoffs," Williams said after Game 4. "First playoff experience is just eye-opening, honestly, about how different it is from the regular season. It's such a different pace.

"Every game has been different in terms of flow, in terms of teams making different adjustments. I also learned a lot about our guys. We don't have guys that back down from adversity, back down from a challenge. We have guys kind of like myself that try to look at the positive of whatever the situation is. You learn a lot about yourself and also your team going through the playoffs."

White got off to a nice start, helping spark a Game 1 comeback. But after a couple of rough turnovers in Game 4, he was sent to the bench.

Now in his third NBA season, it could be easy to lose patience with White, but the things he does are difficult to find. The Bulls would like to have a guy they can count on to score 14 points off the bench most every night, and get hot from long range every once in a while.

One reason to feel optimistic about White's future is he's a 3-point shooter, but has a nice mix of scoring skills. He can help ignite the offense by using his speed to push the pace, and he's trying to improve his defense and rebounding. The Bulls just need him to be more consistent with all of that.

It's not clear yet what Dosunmu's ceiling is in the NBA, but he looks like someone who could have a long career. He can do a lot of things well, whether it's defense, running the point or scoring.

The simplest path forward might just be to get all three players in the gym all summer and see where it leads next season. They've all had bumpy starts to the pro level. White missed last summer recovering from shoulder surgery and was locked out of the gym by COVID in 2020. Williams had no summer league during the pandemic summer, then missed 65 games this year with a wrist injury.

Dosunmu was thrown into a major role as a rookie when Lonzo Ball went out with a knee injury. He handled it well, but could probably use a chance to regroup and work on the things opposing teams attacked.

There will be three major themes to the Bulls' offseason: More height, more shooting and more consistency. The three youngest players have a chance to help solidify all three areas.

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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