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Opportunities, competition in full force early in Bulls training camp

An important part of the early stages in a rebuild are assessing and finding young players that will become part of the future. In the Bulls' case, that first step has included fierce competition for starting spots in training camp.

Fred Hoiberg said at Monday's media day that only center Robin Lopez was assured a spot in the starting lineup, an easy choice given the 29-year-old's status as the only real veteran on the team.

With Zach LaVine still not close to a return while recovering from ACL surgery, the Bulls have four open spots in the starting lineup. For most of the young players - 14 of the 18 Bulls in camp have two or less years of NBA experience - it's the first time in their careers they've had an actual chance of earning a starting spot.

Two key spots, especially given Fred Hoiberg's offensive style, are at point guard and power forward.

Last year free agent Rajon Rondo provided a stopgap, while Hoiberg rotated four others throughout the year, sometimes game-by-game.

At power forward Taj Gibson beat out Nikola Mirotic for the starting gig, but was then dealt to Oklahoma City at the trade deadline. That left Mirotic and Bobby Portis as the only two forwards remaining, with Joffrey Lauvergne seeing spot duty after the Bulls acquired him in the Gibson deal.

Both positions underwent significant changes in the offseason. Rondo was bought out, and the Bulls' return for Jimmy Butler included Kris Dunn, who the Bulls hope will be the point guard of the future.

But Dunn, as Hoiberg alluded to, will have competition.

Jerian Grant, who was part of the package the Bulls received for Derrick Rose last year, is hoping to prove his worth. As a rookie he was stuck behind Jose Calderon in New Yrok, and played behind Rondo a season ago.

"It’s competition. It’s my first year where I get to compete for the starting spot," Grant said. "It’s me and (Dunn) right now, and I think we’ve both been doing a good job of pushing each other and I’m excited for that challenge."

Payne also figures to be in the mix for minutes after he returns from the broken foot he suffered over the summer.

The Bulls moved up nine spots as part of the Butler deal and selected Lauri Markkanen, adding another stretch forward (along with Mirotic and Portis) for Fred Hoiberg to deploy.

Whereas Portis was stuck behind Gibson and Mirotic the last two seasons, he now has the chance to fight for a starting spot and is embracing that competition.

"I’m always motivated. Whether (the Bulls) drafted somebody at my position or not I’m going to be a motivated player regardless of drafted players," Portis said. "I’m a guy who just goes out there and competes at the highest level every time I step out there and I just try to push these guys, motivate these guys and be a leader.

"I want to start. My first few years I didn’t play as much as I wanted to and this summer I feel like I put the time in, effort in to have the opporuntity to start. It’s been fun to come in and compete. I feel like I’m a different player than I was and I’m anxious for the first preseason game to show what I can do."