Bulls

Thad Young gets wish for more minutes, while Lauri Markkanen sits in loss

Thad Young gets wish for more minutes, while Lauri Markkanen sits in loss

Thaddeus Young walked to the waiting throng of reporters at Friday’s morning shootaround with a laugh and a smile.

“Can’t say I didn’t know this was coming,” the veteran said.

On Wednesday and Thursday, Young landed in stories expressing frustration over his role, and with his morning comments, reiterated his desire to play more while maintaining the professional reputation that has defined his 13-year career.

Young got his wish during the Bulls’ abysmal showing in an 83-73 home loss to the Hornets, logging 26 minutes, 33 seconds. But at what cost?

Young received more playing time than Lauri Markkanen, the Bulls’ publicly stated cornerstone of the rebuild. At one point in the second half, Markkanen sat for 14:47 game minutes.

Pretty much everybody except Young and Ryan Arcidiacono endured a brutal night offensively. The Bulls set an NBA-season-low for points and shot 30 percent, including 20.6 percent from 3-point range. They also got outrebounded by 15.

But it’d be one thing if Markkanen had been playing poorly of late. After enduring a lengthy slump to start the season, Markkanen has been trending upward this month. Four of his previous six games produced 20-point outings and he entered Friday night shooting 52.6 percent on the month.

When Markkanen sank a 3-pointer on the opening possession of the second half, he was 4-for-9 at the time for 10 points. Turned out, those were his final points.

“I don’t think so. I think he understands that I’m going to ride with guys who are playing well or guys that make the run, just like I have with him,” coach Jim Boylen said, when asked if his decision could affect Markkanen’s rhythm or confidence. “I overplayed him in the first half. Second half, it wasn’t the same rotation. That’s just part of the game.

“I have a scripted rotation. But it’s not in stone.”

Later, Boylen piled on all the starters. After scoring 10 first-half points, Zach LaVine missed his first seven shots of the second half and only scored two points after halftime. He and Markkanen were a combined 8-for-31.

“Overall, the first group was not good,” Boylen said. “Archie played well. Thought he was into the game. He found his shot, found his rhythm. So we let Archie roll a little bit. That’s going to happen. You’re trying to find guys who can help you make a run, get back in the game. We battled back.”

Playing Young more is fine. And indeed, the Bulls erased a 15-point deficit to cut it to two before defensive lapses led to back-to-back 3-pointers from the Hornets.

But if Boylen isn’t going to play Young at small forward with Otto Porter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison out, playing time at power forward is going to be a storyline every game. Either Young isn’t happy or Markkanen, a franchise cornerstone, sits.

“I don’t know. We’ll see,” Boylen said, when asked if Young could play some small forward. “We’ve talked about it.”

Like Young, who expressed frustration over his role while emphasizing he’ll do what Boylen asks, Markkanen isn’t a boat rocker.

“I didn’t talk to Coach about that,” Markkanen said of his lengthy second-half absence. “Obviously, Thad played well. That’s Coach’s decision. It’s obvious for me that I can play much better. I didn’t play at the level that we need.”

Markkanen didn’t attempt a shot while playing the final 3:58. Did sitting so long affect his rhythm?

“You get a little cold,” he said. “But it’s part of it. You get warm again pretty quickly. Guys do it all the time. That’s not an excuse at all.”

The Bulls need to find a solution for the big-man rotation, which also requires minutes for Wendell Carter Jr. and the raw, athletic Daniel Gafford. A source said Young believed not only would he be playing more minutes this season but closing more games.

“The conversations in the offseason were the conversations in the offseason. But going into the season, things change and come out a little bit differently,” Young said of the Bulls’ free-agent pitch versus his current reality. “The situation is not best-case scenario simply because I am playing 20 minutes a game. But if Coach sees fit to play me 20, sees fit to play me 25, 30, I’m with whatever he decides. He’s the man in charge.”

Boylen said he merely talked to Young about leadership and building and his vision for this team’s future when the Bulls pursued Young in free agency. Either way, the current situation is as messy as the Bulls’ offense against the Hornets.

“We sucked,” LaVine said.

On that, everyone could agree.

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As Bulls prepare for workouts, new management regime headed to Chicago

As Bulls prepare for workouts, new management regime headed to Chicago

For two men who refer to themselves as gym rats, this has been an odd time for Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley.

Hired as the respective executive vice president and general manager to lead the Bulls out of their rebuild and into a more modern NBA, they haven’t even been able to travel to Chicago because of the global pandemic.

That’s about to change.

Karnisovas and Eversley, who have been working remotely daily and diving deep into evaluation of all things Bulls, are scheduled to travel to Chicago in the near future, according to a team spokesperson. Their arrival coincides with a phased re-opening of the Advocate Center, which the Bulls have advanced in conjunction with state and local government officials and infectious disease specialists at Rush University Medical Center.

In compliance with NBA guidelines, the Bulls opened the Advocate Center for players seeking treatment and medical issues. Lauri Markkanen, who recently from a pelvis ailment four games before the league's hiatus, and Kris Dunn, who sprained his MCL Feb. 1, have utilized the facility for treatment purposes.

Voluntary, socially distanced workouts with coaches are scheduled to begin Wednesday, which is when Mayor Lightfoot has said Chicago will enter “Phase 3” of a five-stage plan to re-open the city.

Gov. Pritzker moved the state of Illinois to “Phase 3” on Friday. The Bulls have been in talks with officials at both the state and local levels to follow safety guidelines.

“We are supportive of the Mayor’s decision and are aligning our plans with the directive of her office,” a team spokesperson said.

Few players are currently in the Chicago area. With the league set to have a conference call with team owners on Friday to continue discussing return-to-play plans, the Bulls could have clarity next week on whether they’ll be invited to the league’s restart in Orlando.

Either way, those players who want to will be able to work out with coaches at the Advocate Center starting Wednesday. The Advocate Center remains closed to non-essential staff and media until further notice.

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Why the Bulls are better off not being invited to the NBA bubble

Why the Bulls are better off not being invited to the NBA bubble

Coby White could deliver some mojo again. Otto Porter Jr. and Lauri Markkanen could continue their progress after returning from injuries. Zach LaVine, well, could be Zach LaVine.

There would certainly be basketball-related benefits if the Bulls wind up one of the teams invited to conclude the NBA’s 2019-20 season in Orlando, Fla.

Having the new management regime watch players in live action and avoiding a nine-month layoff between games should the league begin the 2020-21 season on Christmas Day (as the current scuttlebutt says), represent a few.

But all those positives pale to one significant potential drawback, safety concerns (of which there are many) aside: jeopardizing the Bulls’ draft lottery position.

With the league set for another Board of Governors call on Friday as it nears proposing a suggested return-to-play policy, finalizing the format for the draft lottery is one of many fluid situations. Nothing is yet guaranteed other than — bad joke alert — the Bulls drafting seventh.

Indeed, when COVID-19 shut down the sports world in mid-March, the Bulls ranked seventh in the draft lottery standings. That translates to a 32 percent chance at a top-four pick and a 7.5 percent chance at the No. 1 pick. 

And while that doesn’t translate to a 100 percent chance at the seventh pick… Man. That the Bulls currently sit No. 7 — where they have drafted White, Wendell Carter Jr. and acquired the rights to Markkanen over the last three drafts — feels twistedly poetic.

Simply put, weak draft or not, a higher pick is more beneficial to the new front office regime than some fluky playoff run. Sorry, Jim Boylen.

Think about it: Say the league invites the top 24 teams to Orlando and the Bulls, currently 12th in the Eastern Conference, make the trip. The best case scenario? The Bulls get hot, build up a bit of good will and, who knows, maybe even advance a round. But their long-term fates don’t change. And if the NBA eventually models a revised lottery formula for this season in a manner similar to the NHL — which awards lottery odds to teams excluded from their play-in round, and teams that are eliminated in the play-in round, regardless of regular season standing — it could hurt their chances at a higher pick significantly, if not erase them entirely.

To be clear, there is currently no indication of the NBA molding its own lottery formula after the NHL’s. In fact, there is nothing concrete on that front to report at all. 

Still, for a team mired in a rebuild that needs to maximize its assets, the above would not be a good development.

And all of that’s without mentioning the flipside of a potential trip to Disney World for the Bulls. What if more than a month of potentially high-risk travel and training to retake the floor results in a quick flameout — or merely a handful of meaningless regular season games? Any evaluation that could be conducted over that period, which would be colored by the unprecedented circumstances at hand, simply isn’t worth the cost.

So be careful what you wish for, Bulls fans. Yes, everybody is starved for basketball. And, yes, the Bulls were supposed to be done tanking a while ago.

But this is one time when not getting invited to the party could be a good thing.

RELATED: Where the Bulls stand in each of the NBA’s reported resumption plans 

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