The Bulls this season were talking about the playoffs, in part, because of the optimism about their front court, Lauri Markkanen, Otto Porter Jr. and Wendell Carter Jr. When the Bulls hosted the Sacramento Kings Friday, that starting front court, instead, consisted of Kris Dunn, Thaddeus Young and Luke Kornet.
"(Crap), when it rains it pours, right?" offered Young, who became a starter.
That was because shortly before Friday's game, the Bulls announced Markkanen could miss four to six weeks after an examination revealed what the Bulls termed "an early stress reaction of his right pelvis." Bulls coach Jim Boylen explained prior to the game the Bulls took Markkanen to Rush Hospital Thursday for an MRI after Markkanen had talked about soreness for a week or so. Markkanen assumed it was the normal soreness from the season—he hadn't missed a game despite ankle and oblique injuries—and didn't say much. The MRI disclosed what Boylen termed "a heat spot" that doctors said could lead to a more serious fracture if not treated. The Bulls said Markkanen should be able to play within six weeks.
But that means all three front court starters, who combine to average about 50 points, are out injured, Porter with a broken foot and Carter with a severe ankle injury. Neither is due to return until after the All-Star break next month.
"We're always going to look out for the best interests of our guy," said Boylen. "Lauri had a goal to play 82 games and he fought through the oblique and he fought through the ankle. He wants to play; he's disappointed that he's not playing and we hope we get him back as soon as possible. So he's very disappointed. Lauri never said he wasn't going to play until we met with the doctors and we all said this is the best for him not to play. My heart's broken for him and we'll move forward with the guys we have healthy. We just take this opportunity to develop our roster. Next man has to step up. And we keep trying to play hard and play the right way. This happens in our league. It's part of the business.
"I'm not deterred one bit," Boylen added. "I'm disappointed for him. I know fans love watching him play. So I'm disappointed for that. But I'm not deterred in the least bit. As painful as it is, this is an opportunity for somebody else to establish themselves in the league and step up. And I like that part of it."
It's obviously a setback for the team even if Young has been a starter most of his career.
"I have to step up and fill some of the things he does on the court for us," said Young. "Go out there and continue to try and lead the guys and get as many wins as possible. It's an unfortunate situation for not just him but our team as a whole, a big blow to what we do, big blow to how our offense has been moving and operating,
"From a player's perspective it's very tough for us to take these types of blows and to continue to try to go out there and try and play, try and win games," said Young. "It's only crazier for the front office to go figure out how the pieces move and exactly what we need going forward, what we do going forward as a franchise, especially for the future of this franchise. We've had a down year this year, but we still have enough games where we can get into a playoff spot. That's still our ultimate goal. Not just Lau, but Wendell, D-Gaff (injured Daniel Gafford), Otto, we get those guys back and it puts us in a way better situation to win games.
"Obviously my style of play is completely different," Young added. "I can post up and put my back to the basket. I make some shots. I'm not as good a shooter as Lauri, but I try to insert myself in those positions that help our offense be successful, try to adjust and adapt to each and every situation. Be myself and stay within the constraints of the offense and what we are trying to do."
What the Bulls were trying to do was finally get Markkanen back to form, and there were positive signs in Wednesday's win over Minnesota when both Markkanen and Zach LaVine scored at least 20 points. Their offense and tandem has been considered vital to the team's prospects. Now Markkanen is left a bit stunned and back in rehabilitation for the second consecutive season.
"It is disappointing," Markkanen said meeting with media just before game time. "Sucks to be out. They explained to me what could happen and I think it is smart. It feels the same. It's been a couple of days now and it's felt like normal soreness. I don't know if it would be smart to play. It could always get worse. I think this is the smart thing to do.
"I can't think of (anything) specific that happened," said Markkanen. "Just a couple of games now. It just felt like normal soreness. It hasn't really gotten worse, but it's been there for a couple games, so we just decided before we go on the road, get an MRI, then that revealed….
"I haven't had enough time to think about all (it means)," said Markkanen. "I just got the news a little while ago. Of course, it's always disappointing to sit out. I felt like I can play through it. I thought it was just normal to have a little pain. Especially since after the ankle, but apparently it wasn't even related to that. I was shooting my shots (Friday morning) to try to maybe find a reason why the MRI showed what it showed (was a mistake). I really wanted to play, but at the same time I had to take a step back and think what's actually smart. I think they made a good decision; it could get worse. I was surprised."
It wasn't the kind that comes before a party.