CHICAGO — The Chicago Bulls figured Arkansas power forward Bobby Portis would be gone by the time they picked. Once their turn came, the decision was easy.
The Bulls chose Portis with the 22nd overall pick in the NBA draft on Thursday night, adding the SEC Player of the Year to their front court.
General manager Gar Forman said the Bulls projected him as a late lottery pick and figured they would most likely wind up with a guard because there were "more guards and less bigs." Portis did not work out for the Bulls.
But he's headed to Chicago. And with a banged up Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah not to mention an aging Pau Gasol, Chicago went for an athletic and skilled forward.
"I can do a lot of different things with the basketball, and I don't have to have the basketball to score," Portis said. "I'm a guy that moves well without the basketball. I'm a guy that picks and pops, picks and rolls."
The 6-foot-11, 242-pound Portis averaged 17.5 points and 8.9 rebounds for the Razorbacks. He finished among the top five in the SEC in scoring, rebounding, offensive and defensive rebounds, and field-goal percentage.
Where he will fit in the rotation next season remains to be seen. Under former coach Tom Thibodeau, rookies were used sparingly. Portis will be vying for time with a core of veterans along with Nikola Mirotic, who emerged as one of the league's top rookies but struggled in the postseason.
"He can hurt you from both inside and out," said new coach Fred Hoiberg, who got an up-close look at Portis when Iowa State played Arkansas. "The other thing about this roster (is) you've got a great group of veteran players and you've also got a core of young guys now."
Portis joins a 50-win team that fought through injuries and lost to LeBron James and the banged up Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Chicago then fired Thibodeau after a falling out with management, even though he led the Bulls to the playoffs all five seasons. They hired Iowa State's Hoiberg, hoping a change on the sideline would energize the team.
Unlike last summer, when they pursued Carmelo Anthony and signed Gasol, the Bulls don't have the salary cap space to make a major move in free agency. Guard Jimmy Butler figures to earn maximum money as a restricted free agent after making his first All-Star game. But barring a trade, it figures to be a rather quiet summer at least when it comes to signings and trades.
The Butler situation is one to monitor, though.
Forman reiterated a desire to sign him to a long-term deal. But does Butler want one?
There are reports that he would prefer a shorter contract and that there is friction between him and Derrick Rose. The two did not appear to be on the same page in the season-ending loss to Cleveland.
"There's no reason at all that those two, that their games, shouldn't fit together perfectly," Forman said. "I've read about the friction. I haven't seen it. I think in all of our minds, you've got two guys that can attack, that want to run, that can play off the dribble, can play-make for themselves and for others."
The Bulls will be counting on improvement from within as they try to figure out a way to become the first team not led by James to win the East since the Boston Celtics in 2010.
That still largely hinges on Rose.
The 2011 MVP remains a big question mark after an up-and-down season, and he is not the only one.
Gasol will be 35 next season and figures to decline at some point, although he showed no signs of that last season after signing with Chicago. Noah was limited last season coming off surgery on his left knee. Gibson had his left ankle operated on last week and will need three to four months to resume full activities. That puts his status for the season opener in question, although Forman said the doctors believe the ankle will be "like new."
He also said the questions surrounding Gasol, Noah and Gibson did not play into the decision to draft Portis.
"We're going to draft the best player we feel is available," Forman said. "We look at it that way not only for the near future but for down the road, who we feel is the best guy to grow with our team moving forward. There were no discussions like that, as far as the other front-line guys. One of the strengths of our team is the depth we have on the front line. Bobby will have to earn any minutes that he gets."