On Tuesday, the Bulls announced that an MRI on Wendell Carter Jr.'s right quad revealed a severe contusion that will keep the third-year center out at least another month.
While head coach Billy Donovan and Carter's initial tone discussing the injury, which has already caused Carter to miss three games, didn't approach this level of severity, Donovan said the MRI -- which was conducted after swelling subsided in the quad -- revealed a "significant" bruise. Carter will be re-evaluated in four weeks.
"I really feel bad for him," head coach Billy Donovan told reporters after Tuesday afternoon practice. "He's obviously battled some things over the early part of his career in the NBA, and he's had some significant time lost for different situations."
This injury marks the third consecutive season Carter will miss at least a month due to injury. In his rookie year (2018-19), he appeared in just 44 games before a thumb injury ended his season in January. Last season, he missed 22 games from Jan. 8 to Feb. 25 with a badly sprained ankle, appearing in 43 of a possible 65 contest for the campaign.
Now begins another long road to recovery, on which Donovan said the Bulls will do all they can to keep him engaged.
"The hard part I think for him and the length and period of time is, one, to let him heal, and then the other part of it is once he does heal, we gotta get him back running and moving and conditioning and doing those things and that's gonna take some time too," Donovan said. "He's been feeling better. There was a little bit more mobility. But he's not going to really be able to do much conditioning or anything during this time until he fully heals."
As for what's next at the center position? The Bulls are still evaluating. Donovan listed Daniel Gafford (who's started the three games Carter has missed), Lauri Markkanen and Thad Young as potential stopgaps. He also made reference to pivoting to smaller units featuring Otto Porter Jr. in the presumptive power forward slot. It seems as if the approach will be by committee, and Donovan left the door open to address the position on a game-by-game basis.
"It’s tough for sure," said teammate Patrick Williams. "We all know how much he wants to be out there with us. He’s just a guy who loves to play the game. It’s tough for him and to see him go down.
"But we got pros on this team. And we know that they have to step up. OP has done a really good job. Gaff has been doing a really good job. Thad has been playing that 4 or 5 (power forward or center) role. We’ve had some guys really step up in that role while he’s been out. That’s what being a pro is all about, being ready whenever your name is called."
Worse, Carter seemed to be finding his footing in fresh roles on both sides of the ball just before misfortune struck in the form of the practice collision that yielded the bruise, having posted double-figures in scoring in seven consecutive games, averaging 13.9 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.6 assists over that span. He's also an invaluable screen-setter, and his extended absence will brutally sting the Bulls' 26th-rated defense.
"Wendell's a great guy, he's a good team guy, he's worked hard to get himself ready. It was just kind of a freak thing that happened in practice," Donovan said. "And (I) just feel bad he's gotta miss the amount of time he's gonna miss."