Billy Donovan told reporters before the Bulls' Wednesday night bout with the Minnesota Timberwolves that it's "highly unlikely" Lauri Markkanen will return to game action before the All-Star break.
"He makes progress, but he has not done anything contact-wise, he's done nothing that at this point in time would show us that he's going to be back within the next week," Donovan said. "Could it happen? Sure. Do I feel like it's likely it's going to happen? Probably not."
Prior to the Timberwolves matchup, Markkanen had missed the Bulls' previous nine contests with a shoulder sprain suffered on Feb. 5 against the Orlando Magic. Should he miss the Bulls' remaining five games before the All-Star break, which runs this year from March 5-10, he'll have missed 14 games in this latest injury spell and 21 of 35 on the season overall after he spent seven games in the NBA's COVID-19 health and safety protocol due to close contact with a positive teammate at the beginning of the year.
"The biggest challenge I think for Lauri right now is because of the injury, if he reinjures it or hurts it again relatively quickly on his return, it's going to almost put him back to ground zero again," Donovan said. "So, he's working with the medical staff and he's doing what he can physically to keep himself in condition."
Markkanen was assigned an expected two-to-four week recovery timeline on Feb. 8. The four-week mark hits on March 8, the day after the All-Star game and three days before the Bulls tip off the second half of their season against the Philadelphia 76ers on March 11.
Markkanen has enjoyed great success in Donovan's offense when on the floor, averaging a career-best 19.1 points on career-high 51.4 percent field goal and 39.6 percent 3-point shooting in his 14 appearances. But it's not as if the Bulls have sputtered without him. The team entered Wednesday 6-3 in the last nine games he's missed -- with the league's 12th-rated offense, ninth-rated defense and fifth-highest net rating in that span -- and 9-7 in games he hasn't played for the season.
Whether those figures prove incidental or not (the Bulls have faced some short-handed competition in that stretch), Markkanen and the Bulls eagerly await his return. This is now the third straight season the fourth-year forward has endured an extended injury absence.