Bulls second year center Wendell Carter Jr. helped launch the All-Star weekend festivities Friday morning, though more as a spectator at the Rising Stars game practice at Wintrust Arena.
Carter is inactive due to a sprained ankle, though he told reporters his plan is to play when the Bulls resume their regular season schedule Thursday in the United Center against Charlotte.
Carter injured his ankle Jan. 6 against Dallas when he landed on the foot of Dwight Powell. Carter was averaging 11.7 points and a team high 9.9 rebounds and had played every game. He was among the league leaders with 17 double/doubles. It was estimated then he would miss four to six weeks. This Monday will be six weeks. Carter was replaced for the Friday night game with Zion Williamson.
"I'm definitely feeling a lot better," Carter said as the freshmen and sophomores prepared for practice. Continuously doing therapy. I want to be back the next game. That's what I'm shooting for right now. I don't know if that's going to happen; that's definitely what I'm shooting for."
The Bulls are hoping that Carter as well as Otto Porter Jr. and Lauri Markkanen will return to play during the next week or two and the Bulls can take a shot and make one final push for that long discussed playoff goal for this season. Carter still believes it's possible despite the season of setbacks and disappointments. Plus, Carter said after a shaky start he's on board with coach Jim Boylen.
"Jim is definitely a different coach than from what I've had," Carter said in response to a media question. "He shows a lot of passion. He speaks what's on his mind. At first we didn't get along as well as I would have thought. But as I got to know him and the fact he just wants us to be great and he really cares for us and wants us to play well, I love him now. He's one of my favorite coaches I've had. I'm looking forward to growing with him in the years to come.
"The fact he was coming in late at night; he'd come in and help me," Carter explained. "He'd come and rebound for me. He showed he really cared; that's something I admire and I respect the fact he does that.
"I feel we have to get healthy," Carter added about the priority. "Just the fact I haven't been healthy again (missing the last three months of 2018-19 with a thumb fracture). It kind of sucks I wasn't able to help my team as much (again). I feel like the health aspect is the most important right now and once we get healthy we can evaluate what we need to work on. I see a (playoff) possibility for this year. I feel once I come back and am able to play for my team I feel we can win enough games to get into the playoffs. That's my mind set."
Carter also is joining several of his teammates, former Bulls and team ambassadors as unofficial hosts for the All-Star weekend at a plethora of league sponsored events.
"This is exciting," said Carter. "Seeing a lot of famous people, a lot of celebrities, a lot of All-Stars walking around the city. It sends a rush. At the same time, these are people I've played against night in and night out. I am also excited to enjoy the festivities for the weekend and see everyone in my town. I definitely know all the good food spots, all the good shopping centers, so they have to come and ask me.
"It feels good knowing I was recognized as one of the best second year players in the league (even though I cannot play)," Carter said. "It's disappointing I'm not able to run around with my peers out there. At the same time I get the recognition for my play, so I'll take that and keep moving. I'm excited for (the game) tonight; ready to get it going. It's also an All Star game (Sunday) and that's something I'm shooting for.
"I definitely think I'm on the right path to becoming an All-Star," the 6-9 center said. "When? I'm not sure. But I feel like the pace I'm going and my respect for the game, the way I play and how effective I am when I play, I feel I'm on a pretty good path to making it as an All Star. (By) just out working everybody. The only way for you to become an All-Star (there is) talent, of course, but outworking and showcasing every night and being consistent and showing the league no matter who you are playing against you are going to play the same. I feel that separates a good player from an All-Star."
And everyone knows you never can have enough of those.
The Bulls don't officially have one yet on the roster, though Zach LaVine has made a strong case. So is Wendell working the parties for converts?
"It can't be the weather, as you'll seen," Carter laughed about a Chicago selling point. "Probably the food. I've always said we've probably got the best food of all the cities. I think it's pretty evident (that) everybody kind of sees we're in a building stage. I feel like we're at a really good place, but we haven't been able to be healthy for a long stretch of games. (I believe) everybody kind of sees the potential in us. They know when we are fully healthy and fully active we are pretty hard to beat."
That's certainly something the Bulls have yet to prove, but at least they aren't discouraged.
"Second half of the season just try to go out and pick up where I left off from," said Carter. "That's an individual goal. As a team goal, just help my team bring together as many wins as possible and make a playoff push. A focus of mine is being more aggressive on the offensive end. That's something I want to showcase more, my passing ability and IQ for the game, the coach allowing me to make the right decisions, putting the ball in my hand (more). I feel I'm a pretty good shooter; I just haven't asserted myself as much when it comes to taking the three-point shots. I want to get up two or three three point shots a game; that's a comfort zone for me. I'm pretty confident. I know I can make them. I have to shoot more of them and more will go in."
And is there a Saturday Night Surprise to come?
"There are a lot of great shooters in the (three-point contest)," Carter acknowledged. "But under pressure he (LaVine) knows how to make a lot of threes; I think he's going to win it. When I found out about the dunk contest in Chicago I told him, ‘You've got to get in it.' l've seen him dunk in practice. It's crazy. Hopefully, he'll make a surprise appearance."
Friday was the 13th annual All-Star NBA Cares NBA service day when players and team and league officials volunteer for hands-on service projects, sorting and packing food donations and school supplies that are distributed to support students and families across Chicago neighborhoods. Former Bull Ron Harper was scheduled among the volunteers along with NBA commissioner Adam Silver.
Cuurent and former Bulls and Bulls staff and employees were spread out around Chicago for the weekend. LaVine, who will participate in the long distance shootout Saturday night in the United Center, was co-host of an e-sports video game tournament Friday. He and Carter participated in multiple electronic media interviews Thursday along with all the principal participants for the game and contests.
Lauri Markkanen helped host the Basketball Without Borders camp Friday at Quest Multisport....Cristiano Felicio is to work the camp Sunday morning...former Bulls Horace Grant, Ron Harper and Will Perdue were among NBA players to meet patients Thursday at Lurie Children's Hospital...former Bull Grant and Toni Kukoc were to join players for the Special Olympics game prior to the celebrity game Friday night...Coby White, former Windy City Bull Spencer Dinwiddie, former Bull Craig Hodges and Bulls ambassadors Cliff Levington and Mickey Johnson participated Friday in clinics for junior NBA Day...For the Making an Impact and Advancing Equality forums, Bulls assistant coach Karen Stack-Umlauf is scheduled Saturday for a panel discussion on Female Leaders Impacting Sports Culture and Bulls Marketing Vice-President Susan Goodenow will be part of the Innovative Partnerships panel.