Lauri Markkanen joked that he didn’t have much experience staying in Chicago hotels. Even with the enjoyable experience of seeing his brother, Drew, in Drew’s new role as Loyola University head coach, Denzel Valentine said “being an opponent of the Bulls is just a weird feeling.”
Yes, the preseason schedule threw the feelings of Markkanen and Valentine into the deep end of the pool on Tuesday, placing them in a United Center where both once-celebrated lottery picks experienced plenty of highs and lows during their Chicago Bulls tenures.
“I loved it. It was a great five years. It went by so fast,” Valentine said. “Coming into the city (Monday) was so weird. But I had a great time here. I feel like I had a lot of great moments. I feel like I had a lot of down moments---and anything in between. More great than down.
“Everybody’s journey is different. If it was perfect or easy, everybody would be doing it. I’ve gone through trials and tribulations. I’ve shown glimpses. I know what I’m capable of doing. I’ve done it here. I’m finally healthy now. This is going to be my second season coming in healthy, so I feel like my best basketball is ahead of me.
“I appreciate the Bulls and Chicago for everything they did for me. I have no grudges, no nothing here. I don’t feel any type of way. Things just didn’t work out. But still I had great moments and great opportunities here and I had great teammates. I was blessed to play here.”
As he did during an August interview with NBC Sports Chicago following his sign-and-trade to the Cavaliers, Markkanen took the high road as well.
“I appreciate everybody,” Markkanen said. “I don’t have anything bad to say about the city of Chicago, the organization or especially the fans. I’m looking forward to seeing them. They supported me for four years. It’s going to be exciting. I’m happy to be back here.
“It was great to walk into the building. I’m excited to compete with my new teammates. But it’s going to be great to see old friends too.”
Both Markkanen and Valentine endured injuries and inconsistencies throughout their Bulls tenures but authored enough high moments to have confidence their changes of scenery will help them flourish. Markkanen went against his soft-spoken nature to ask out of Chicago in the three-team deal that netted the Bulls Derrick Jones Jr. and a first- and second-round pick, while Valentine signed late in free agency.
Markkanen joins a young frontcourt that features Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley, the third overall pick. And Cavaliers’ coach J.B. Bickerstaff sounded an awful lot like Fred Hoiberg, Jim Boylen and Billy Donovan in answering what expectations he has for Markkanen.
“Our conversations with Lauri have been: We want you to be a shotmaker and a playmaker on the offensive end. We don’t want you to just be a one-dimensional player,” Bickerstaff said. “We know he’s capable of obviously making 3s. But we’ve seen him create his own offense, seeing him put the ball on the floor and get to the basket, all those things.
“Defensively, what I’ve been most impressed with is he’s a really good defensive rebounder. That helps us with the transition from the defensive end to the offensive end. We have high hopes for him and high expectations and believe he can live up to them.”
Valentine said having Markkanen around is making his transition easier. Their shared experiences provide comfort and familiarity.
Finding that visiting locker room? That’s less familiar.