Bulls

How the Lauri Markkanen injury sets back the Bulls' season and rebuild

How the Lauri Markkanen injury sets back the Bulls' season and rebuild

Lauri Markkanen badly wanted to play all 82 games this season.

He stated that goal publicly at last September’s media day. He told many people privately how much it would mean to him after missing a combined 44 games over his first two seasons. It’s a big reason why he played through oblique and left ankle issues this season.

With everything else crumbling around him — the Bulls’ playoff chances, his All-Star chances — it represented a noble pursuit that could help the franchise.

That goal came crashing down with Friday’s bombshell news that Markkanen will miss four to six weeks after an MRI exam revealed an early stress reaction of his right pelvis.

This latest injury falls on top of promising rookie Daniel Gafford sitting with a dislocated right thumb, Wendell Carter Jr. still weeks away from returning after a severely sprained right ankle and Otto Porter Jr. not playing since Nov. 6 with a foot fracture.

There are so many ramifications to Markkanen’s latest setback that it’s hard to know where to begin. But this is a start: Since management plunged into a full rebuild with the June 2017 trade of Jimmy Butler, Markkanen and Zach LaVine have played just 106 of 210 games together, as of this writing.

Extrapolating the missed games angle further, LaVine, Carter, Porter and Markkanen have played just nine of 74 games together since the Bulls acquired Porter via trade last February.

To be clear: This is no way to judge a rebuild.

Thad Young will start at power forward in Markkanen’s absence. Forgotten man Denzel Valentine could rejoin the rotation.

But make no mistake: Even with Porter hoping to play after the All-Star break and Markkanen hopeful to return after missing 10 to 17 games, this is a massive setback. It further clouds how to judge the core pieces the Bulls counted on to return them to relevancy as soon as this season.

Players will return out of rhythm and out of sync. There is limited practice time down the stretch of the season, particularly when the Bulls’ brutal close to the schedule is considered. It may not even really matter what the Bulls do in the short-term — how the rotation shakes out, how much LaVine can still carry the offense — because this season is headed to lost cause status.

Again.

The Bulls absolutely need to still listen to any trade interest involving Young, even though his role will increase. He’s a valuable piece, added to bring leadership, durability, solid play and veteran savvy to help the current core.

But he won’t be here in three years if Markkanen and LaVine reach the ceilings the Bulls need them to for this rebuild to work.

"We take this opportunity to develop our roster," coach Jim Boylen said. "Some next man has to step up. We keep trying to play hard and play the right way. This happens in our league. It's part of the business."

Boylen wouldn't bite on long-term ramifications for the state of the rebuild. He said he wouldn't "go there" when asked if this season is another lost opportunity.

"We're building something. I want our defense to be good, I want our shot profile to be what it is — very good," Boylen said. "I want us to improve our defensive rebounding and defend without fouling. I'm not deterred one bit. I'm disappointed for him. But I'm not deterred in the least bit. As painful as it is, this is an opportunity for somebody else to establish themself. I like that part of the league.

"I'd be dishonest if I didn't say it's frustrating, for all of us. For John [Paxson], for Jerry and Michael [Reinsdorf], it's frustrating. But it's spilled milk, man. We gotta move on and make the guys we can better and hope the guys get back soon. We're not going to wallow in this. We have to move forward. And we will."

Markkanen, whose ankle also will get a chance to heal, vowed to return stronger. But another ramification to the injury: This makes Markkanen's looming negotiations for an extension of his rookie contract this summer even more difficult. He remains under Bulls' rights even if one isn't reached.

"I really wanted to play," he said. "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. I agree it could get worse."

Markkanen was speaking about his situation, not the rebuild. We think.

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Posterized presents 'Chicagoland's All-Time Starting Five' plus Q&A with Jason Goff

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Posterized presents 'Chicagoland's All-Time Starting Five' plus Q&A with Jason Goff

Over the 2020 NBA All-Star Weekend in Chicago, the "Posterized: The Chicago Experience by Jim Beam" event celebrated the rich history of Chicagoland high school hoops by honoring an "all-time starting five," featuring five Chicagoland preps legends, voted on by Chicago sports fans. Fans had from February 6 to February 10 at 9 pm to vote for their top five from a list of names that included Candace Parker, Derrick Rose, and the late Benji Wilson. The final results were revealed on February 14th, at the Chicago Sports Museum & Harry Caray's 7th inning stretch restaurant.

At Posterized the event the Chicagoland all-time starting five was revealed: Derrick Rose (Simeon), Isiah Thomas (St. Joseph), Dwyane Wade (Richards High School), Anthony Davis (Perspectives Charter), and Antoine Walker (Mount Carmel). I was able to speak with the host of the event about the experience and the final list, NBC Sports Chicago's Jason Goff. Below is the Q+A with Goff on the event: 

 

Q: How was your experience at 'Posterized: The Chicago Experience' and what ultimately led to your interest in hosting the event? 

It was a terrific experience. Joy Glover and her team put together a really cool experience for locals and people who aren't from Chicago. All things party, Chicago basketball appreciation; and All-Star weekend rolled into one event. When Joy reached out through a mutual friend, I didn't hesitate. The idea was cool and the execution during the busiest time I've seen in quite a while was excellent. 

Q: The All-Time starting 5 selected by the fans was: Isiah Thomas, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, Anthony Davis, and Antione Walker. Ultimately, do you think the fans got it right? Was there anyone you were shocked didn't make the final cut? 

There are so many names that were on the list that deserve recognition. We're all prisoners of whatever generation of basketball we grew up in. Quinn Buckner, Mark Aguirre, George Mikan, etc. Just to name a few. Also, the women's game could've received a little more gratitude by our voters as well. Candace Parker, Cappie Pondexter; and many others have had just as much success inside and outside of this city as anyone. 

Q: Who in your opinion had the best high school career out of the Chicagoland all-time starting five? (Isiah Thomas, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, Anthony Davis, and Antione Walker)

Of the ones named? Probably Derrick Rose [at Simeon]. But nobody has done more winning than Quinn Buckner (a member of undefeated Thornridge High School team in 1972, one of the best HS teams ever.)

Q: When it's all said and done, who do you think will have the best NBA career of the Chicagoland all-time starting five? (Isiah Thomas, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, Anthony Davis, and Antione Walker)

Unless Anthony Davis wins a few titles, it'd have to be Dwyane Wade with Isiah Thomas as a close second.

Between the five players that make up Posterized's all-time starting five, there are six NBA Championships, an NBA MVP, and 17 All-NBA appearances. Below are some of the accomplishments of this illustrious group:

Isiah Thomas:

High school (St. Joseph-Westchester): State finalist (1979), McDonald's All-American (1979),  first-team Parade All-American, USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year (1980)

Indiana (NCAA): NCAA Champion (1981), NCAA Tourney MVP (1981), 2-time All-Big Ten, Consensus 1st team All-American (1981)

NBA (Detroit Pistons): Five-time All-NBA, Two-time NBA Champion (1988-89, 1989-90), 1989-90 Finals MVP, Hall of Famer

Derrick Rose:

Simeon (High school): State finalist (1979), McDonald's All-American (1979),  first-team Parade All-American, USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year (1980)

Memphis (NCAA): NCAA Champion (1981), NCAA Tourney MVP (1981), 2-time All-Big Ten, Consensus 1st team All-American (1981)

NBA (Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons): 2008-09 Rookie of the Year, one-time All-NBA, 2010-11 MVP

Dwyane Wade:

Richards (High school): Led Ricards to the Class AA sectional finals in his senior year

Marquette (NCAA): First-team All-American (2003), Conference USA Player of the Year (2003), No. 3 jersey retired by Marquette

NBA (Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers): Eight-time All-NBA, Three-time NBA Champion (2005-06, 2011-12, 2012-13), Finals MVP (2005-06)

Antoine Walker:

Mount Carmel (High school): Chicago Tribune 1994 Boys All-State Basketball Team, First-team Parade All-American (1994)

Kentucky (NCAA):  SEC Tournament MVP (1995), First-team All-SEC (1996), NCAA Champion (1996)

NBA (Boston Celtics, Dallas Mavericks, Miami Heat, Atlanta Hawks, Minnesota Timberwolves): 15,647 career points, 1996-97 All-Rookie, three-time All-Star, 2005-06 NBA Champion

Anthony Davis:

Perspectives (High school): First-team Parade All-American (2011), Jordan Brand Classic co-MVP (2011)

Kentucky (NCAA): 2011-12 SEC Defensive Player of the Year, 2012 SEC Player of the Year, Naismith Award, Wooden Award, NCAA Champion (2011-12)

NBA (New Orleans Pelicans, Los Angeles Lakers):  2012-13 All-Rookie, three-time blocks leader, three-time All-Defensive team, three-time All-NBA

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Roommates, brothers, opponents: Coby White, Cam Johnson reunite and show out

Roommates, brothers, opponents: Coby White, Cam Johnson reunite and show out

Cameron Johnson had just been selected by the Phoenix Suns with the No. 11 overall pick in the 2019 NBA draft. At the time, the move was a surprise — Johnson was projected to fall into the middle to late first round, despite averaging 16.9 points and shooting 45.7% from 3 in his last year at North Carolina.

So, elation was a natural response for all close to Johnson. And nobody displayed that elation more authentically — nor more publicly — than Johnson’s teammate, roommate and ‘little brother’ Coby White (who had been picked by the Bulls just four slots earlier). You remember the clip:

That familial bond was grown over many nights bunking together on the road during White’s one and only year at UNC. It all began on a week-long trip to the Bahamas in advance of last season.

“Coming in, I'm the type of dude where if I don't really know you, then I don't talk a lot,” White said. “And then Cam was like ‘Why you so anti(-social)?’ and then it kinda started from there. He became a guy I could always go to if I ever needed something, on or off the court.”

“You know, seniors pair with freshmen, make sure they're everybody they need to be on time,” Johnson, a fifth-year in 2018-19, said. “But he was, like, a mature, easy, no-drama freshman. His composure was at a very high level, his maturity was at a very high level.”

White scoffed at that, saying he got a similar rep (of being ‘mature’) in his first weeks with the Bulls. “I was like nah just trust me,” he said. “And now I'm like that little brother that's annoying them.”

Still, Johnson and White became fast friends over their overlapping year in Chapel Hill. Though it’s been tough to keep in touch amid the rigors of their first NBA seasons, they each agreed competing against each other was a fun change of pace.

“It was great seeing him, I hadn't seen him in a long time, so it was great seeing him,” White said. “We talk here and there, but because we're so busy — it's one of those things, like, you know no matter what we're gonna have each other's backs, we always gonna be there for each other when we need each other.”

“I love that kid, man. I tell you, most of the time when we talk it’s just saying what’s up and just reminding each other that we love each other,” Johnson said. “That’s my guy and I went over and gave him a big hug before I went on the court today.”

 

What ensued come gametime was special for all. In the contest — a 112-104 Suns victory — White poured in a career-high 33 points and canned seven 3-pointers, shooting 11-for-22 from the field. Johnson notched 11 points and three 3-pointers, and made all of them count.

“It was fun, but I hate him so much,” White said of Johnson, who hit two of his three 3-pointers in the game’s fourth quarter. “I just know whenever he shoots if he gets any type of open look it's going in. So every time he shot it in my head, I'm like mad cause I'm like, he's the one you just can't leave him open. The ball just kept finding him in open space.”

But then, with a smile: “But obviously it's all love. After the game, I talked to him, he told me he was proud of me and whatnot. He's like a big brother to me, so it means a lot.”

There’s just something about these Tar Heels. With Roy Williams at the United Center on Nov. 12, White set a Bulls record for 3-pointers in a quarter with seven in the fourth against the Knicks. Tonight, lined up across from Johnson, he scored the second-most points in Bulls franchise history by a rookie off the bench.

He, Johnson and Bulls fans everywhere, will be counting down the days until the team visits Phoenix on April 5.

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