Lauri Markkanen out 6-8 Weeks
Obviously, it's disappointing to be out. It's such a long offseason and I worked hard and was just ready to play basketball again. - Lauri Markkanen
The Bulls Sunday conclude camp with the first preseason game, 6 p.m. Sunday in the United Center against Nikola Mirotic and the New Orleans Pelicans.
As camp goes, it feels like it was a rainy week when someone stole all the cords for making the friendship lanyards, the ice cream machine was broken, the internet was out and the only movies were Son of Mask and Kazaam.
"It's a blow to us, no question," lamented Bulls Executive VP Basketball Operations John Paxson.
That was Paxson's response Saturday morning in the Advocate Center in the wake of the news from Friday night that all-rookie forward Lauri Markkanen will be out six to eight weeks with an elbow sprain sustained during a practice scrimmage Thursday. It was not initially considered serious, but Markkanen then experienced worsening symptoms overnight, leading to an MRI and diagnosis. His elbow will be immobilized with a brace.
Earlier in the week, Denzel Valentine sustained a left ankle sprain that is expected to keep him out one to two weeks. Valentine last year had surgery on that same left ankle after multiple sprains during his rookie season.
Thus the Bulls begin the abbreviated five-game preseason with two of their main rotation players injured and, at least, Markkanen unavailable for opening night in Philadelphia Oct. 18.
Coach Fred Hoiberg said Jabari Parker, who had been expected to start at and learn small forward, now will start at power forward Sunday with Justin Holiday moving in at small forward. Hoiberg added that the injuries will open early unanticipated opportunities for players like rookie Chandler Hutchison and Antonio Blakeney. Fellow rookie Wendell Carter Jr. sat out practice Friday with a shoulder problem. But he experienced no further issues and will play, as expected, with the reserves in the Sunday opener. He will back up starting center Robin Lopez.
Bobby Portis will remain in his reserve role to support Parker. Though because it's the first exhibition game, there will be limited playing time and most everyone but the new free agents likely will play.
"It's not deflating," insisted Paxson. "It's just disappointing for Lauri. He had such a good summer. We talked about (at media day) if we stay healthy (it being our early advantage). So you almost have to laugh at it. It's such that it has to be immobilized for a good period of time to heal. It could've been a lot worse. It could've been something that was torn and required surgery. It will take time to heal. We're being careful with the timeframe. He's so important to us that we want to make sure he's healthy. Like we've tried to do with all our guys, we won't rush him back.
"He can do some things on a bike," Paxson added. "But you can never replicate what you do on the floor. He won't be able to do those (weight lifting) type of things for the next month or so. We've had our fair share (of injuries). Sometimes you wonder why. But this is sports. You just have to move on. The games are going to come. We're going to have to play them. Hopefully the continuity we have right now through camp helps us."
It's surely a major setback for the Bulls in what appeared to be a potentially optimistic beginning with a core of young players prepared to not only assume new roles, but learn to develop that vital chemistry. That's perhaps the biggest pause since coordination with Markkanen among regulars like Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine was such an important element for these players.
Plus, there's the issue with Parker. He was being schooled almost exclusively at small forward to learn that position because Markkanen is a fixture now at power forward. Parker suggested there's little difference between the two forward positions. Not exactly the opinion of his coach.
"I'm going to start Jabari at the four and he's maybe had five reps at the four the whole preseason," said Hoiberg. "I've really been trying to get him to play one position and learn the three because it's so much different. You have to get out in front of the ball running the wing. Now he's got to change his approach as the inbounder and he'll be trailing the play more. So we're going to have to keep it very basic tomorrow just based on the fact that he has not had a lot of reps at the four position. We love Bobby's energy and the role that he's played pretty much since he's been here is that sixth man, so that was really the decision."
"This is part of it," acknowledged Hoiberg of yet another opening week mishap from Derrick's Rose's facial fracture to the Portis/Mirotic fight last year. "A lot of teams go through what we're going through right now and you just have to make the best of the situation. Guys just have to understand that they're going to get a great opportunity. This is going to put Chandler in a position to get some really good quality minutes here early. Antonio will get minutes, especially with Denzel out right now with his ankle. So that's a big part of this. You've got to be ready to take advantage of situations when these types of things present themselves.
"He's (Markkanen) just been playing unbelievably well," said Hoiberg.
"You just look at the way he finished last year, he was really starting to understand the nuances of the offense and really taking off this year with that, with his added strength and his ability to be more versatile. So it is disappointing. But we all understand it's a big part of this game. We need to fill in as best we can and we'll be changing some positions around."
It's certainly a reverse for Markkanen, who not only had added almost 20 pounds of what seemed to be muscle and strength, but came to camp so much more relaxed and confident than in what proved to be an exceptional rookie season. He seemed primed for a potential All-Star season after being the team's leading scorer last season among those who played all season.
Befitting his enhanced assuredness, Markkanen agreed to meet with media Saturday morning even though it is not required of injured player. Markkanen appeared poised and even puckish as he quipped, "Now I can work on my lefty a little bit.
"Obviously, it's disappointing to be out," Markkanen agreed. "It's such a long offseason and I worked hard and was just ready to play basketball again. I don't know how long it's going to take, but I'm going to be right back. A normal basketball play; we had a bunch of guys going for a rebound and I don't know exactly what happened, but I feel like my arm got stuck somewhere.
"You know the feeling like it gets stuck somewhere and you're like, ‘Oh that scared me,' but nothing happened? So that's how it felt, a little sore," Markkanen related. "But then I woke up in the middle of the night. It was getting worse, and then Friday morning, it was worse than when it actually happened.
"It's probably the longest period of time I'm going to be out," said Markkanen, who missed 14 games with injuries and a personal absence last season, mostly back problems. "It's a minor setback. Hopefully, I can be even a little better than I am right now. You can always improve other things. They told me that I can start doing conditioning right away, so hopefully I'm not going to get out of shape. I'm going to be working on that every day. I know my shot is going to be there. I'm not worried about that.
"Yeah, I want to be out there for the guys," Markkanen said. "It just felt like now we have all the guys healthy and we were ready to get into it. So that's why it's more disappointing to have someone out. I know the guys will step up even more. They already have. I'm looking forward to watching these guys and getting back out there."
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