Bulls

Why the Bulls' health is the team's most crucial storyline down the stretch

Why the Bulls' health is the team's most crucial storyline down the stretch

With 21 games left in the 2019-20 regular season, the clock is ticking on the Bulls to figure out what they have.

A recent comeback win over the Mavericks provided a taste. Otto Porter Jr. returned from a 51-game, 17-week absence to drop 18 points on 7-for-11 shooting in 17 minutes. Coby White continued his hot streak and led all Bulls with 19 points off the bench. Wendell Carter Jr., who is still not 100 percent, upped his minutes total to 23 in his second game back from a high ankle sprain. The Bulls beat a team above .500 for just the second time all year.

Practice on Tuesday afternoon offered another bright spot. Lauri Markkanen, who’s been inching closer to a return, took part in some high-octane offensive and defensive drills and looked uninhibited.

 

Markkanen spoke to media for the first time since being ruled out with an early stress reaction in his pelvis on Jan. 24.

“I feel pretty good. I’m hoping to play (against Minnesota on Wednesday),” Markkanen said. “Physically, I feel ready to go. From what we did, I was able to do all of it. It sucks to sit out.”

Even on a getaway day before jetting to Minnesota tonight, he was drenched in sweat. He’s ready.

In addition to the early stress reaction, Markkanen battled an ailing ankle in January but said he’s “pretty close” to 100 percent. Head coach Jim Boylen said that if Markkanen is cleared after re-evaluation on Wednesday morning, he’ll play against the Timberwolves. Markkanen said he wants to play every game down the stretch once he’s cleared.

Porter and Carter’s minutes are also set to be raised moving forward.

RELATED: How Otto Porter Jr.'s return could impact Bulls' stretch run

But in a cruel twist of irony, Zach LaVine will likely remain inactive for the rest of the week. LaVine missed his first game of the season against Dallas after an MRI revealed a strain in his left quad, a dagger in his stated desire to play all 82. He’ll be out again against the Timberwolves on Wednesday.

“It sucks. ’Cause I played through more painful things already this year. It's just that I don't think they were as severe,” LaVine said. “It's just being smart about it and not trying to make it worse than what it is at this time. I'll be out probably about a week and try to figure out what's a good time to come back just to make sure it heals all the way up.”

“I’m excited,” said LaVine of the Bulls slowly getting their players back. “I was upset that everybody's coming back and then you know, I'm exiting stage left… But I know mine isn't a lengthy injury like they had.”

That’s the way of this Bulls season. One in, one out. A silver lining with a touch (or splatter) of grey. 

With the playoffs a distant dream, the reality is that this season is no longer about this season. It’s about what comes next. Front office changes are on the horizon, but this team’s roster is largely set in stone moving forward (once Porter officially inks his $28.5 million player option for 2020-21). It’s likely that the most significant addition this offseason will be a top-10 draft selection — another young face on a team already among the youngest in the league. Although, we can’t forget about the impending extension negotiations for Markkanen and LaVine, and a decision on Kris Dunn in restricted free agency.

The only way forward for this rebuild is through internal progression or a severe roster shakeup by way of trade. Either way, the Bulls need as many of their crucial cogs on the floor together as possible down the stretch. 

Because as nice a story as Adam Mokoka clamping Luka Doncic in an early-March comeback win is, the core is the key. Can a team constructed around LaVine, Markkanen, Carter and White eventually thrust towards title contention? That’s all that matters. No realistic outcome for this rebuilding season will be wholly satisfying given the expectations it began with, but added clarity on that central question would be better than where we are now.

That’s not to suggest that the Bulls should rush anyone back beyond his comfort or safety. But the urgency to see the core play together is palpable.

Hopefully, we’ll get to see it before the end of the season. A hint of hope entering a summer of reckoning is the biggest thing left to root for.

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Top 'Last Dance' moments to get you through first Sunday without Michael Jordan

Top 'Last Dance' moments to get you through first Sunday without Michael Jordan

So you’re sitting around Sunday night, missing “The Last Dance.” We get it, we wish it was still on too.

To help us all get through this first week without it, we’ve compiled some of our favorite “Last Dance” stories so that we can remember the good times together.

Whether it’s your first time seeing some of these, or just a fun look back, we hope you enjoy.

Recounting the best quotes from “The Last Dance”

We’ve got Jordan, we’ve got Kobe Bryant, we’ve got Dennis Rodman-- and yes we’ve even got some Carmen Electra for you.

Michael Jordan jamming to different songs takes over Twitter

If there was one thing more fun than simply watching “The Last Dance,” it was talking with your friends and family about “The Last Dance.” Some of the after-show interviews with athletes, coaches and pundits added incredible insight. And sometimes a memelord would create something so fun that you couldn’t help but watch and laugh. This is one of those latter moments.

Rod Thorn: Michael Jordan didn’t ask for Isiah Thomas to be left off Dream Team

One of the biggest beefs in basketball has a light shined on it. But after all this time, there are still conflicting reports as to what happened back in 1992.

Did Utah pizza give Michael Jordan food poisoning and was it intentional?

The “flu game” is one of the most iconic performances in Michael Jordan’s career, but now we’ve learned it wasn’t the “flu game” at all! Certainly one of the most intriguing new wrinkles out of all the details we learned across the series.

Scottie Pippen on Jerry Krause: ‘The greatest general manager in the game’

The beef between Pippen and Krause was well documented, especially early in the series. But by the end even Pippen had to give it up for Krause.

Why Scott Burrell appreciated Michael Jordan's harsh leadership style

Arguably the most emotional moment we saw during Jordan’s interviews was when he described his leadership style with his teammates. It’s clear Jordan pushed the Bulls very hard, and it’s easy to see how it could rub some people the wrong way. But not Scott Burrell.

How Bulls helped Scottie Pippen earn millions more on way out of Chicago

After one early episode of “The Last Dance,” many people on social media were incredulous that Pippen’s long-term contract was never renegotiated considering his important contributions to the team. However our K.C. Johnson set the record straight for how the Bulls made things right with Pippen when he was on his way out of town.

Why running it back would not have yielded the Bulls a seventh title in 1998-99

To finish this post off, we’re going back to K.C. Johnson who tells us why the 1998 title would’ve been the last for the Bulls dynasty, no matter if Jordan, Jackson and co. returned, or not.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.

Recounting the best quotes from ‘The Last Dance’

Recounting the best quotes from ‘The Last Dance’

Cameo Division

“There's a knock on the door. It's Michael Jordan.”  — Carmen Electra, Episode 4

Michael Jordan barging into Dennis Rodman’s Chicago apartment to break up Rodman and Electra’s Vegas postgame is exactly the absurd place this documentary needed to go.

“Michael Jordan is the only player that could ever turn it on and off, and he never freakin’ turned it off.” — Roy Williams, Episode 2

Roy Williams’ time in this docuseries was far too short.

“I was better than Michael Jordan… For about three weeks.” — James Worthy, Episode 2

In fact, let’s stay on Jordan’s UNC years for a moment. That James freaking Worthy delivered this quote (he of the three NBA titles, Finals MVP, seven All-Star nods and on and on) says all you need to know about Jordan’s greatness — from the beginning.

“Alright. F**king Bulls**t.” — Ron Harper, Episode 4

In the moment, a delightful moment of candor from “1989 Cleveland Cavaliers member” (if all you watched was the docuseries) Ron Harper. In retrospect… Salacious! 

Michael Jordan being being Michael Jordan

“The Glove… I had no problem with The Glove.” — Michael Jordan, Episode 8

Michael Jordan is a walking, living, breathing meme. Cherish him forever.

 

“I didn’t want Bill Cartwright to have the ball with five seconds left. That’s not an equal opportunity offense. That’s f**king bulls**t.” — Michael Jordan, Episode 4

Jordan’s first impressions of the Triangle. Classic. And a meaningful tone-setter for his full evolution as a player — punctuated, later in this same episode, by Jordan conceding shots to an open and red-hot John Paxson in Game 5 of the 1991 Finals.

“Depends how f**king bad the headache is.” — Michael Jordan, Episode 2

Jordan’s response to Jerry Reinsdorf posing this analog to a potentially career-altering foot injury he suffered in his second season:

"If you had a terrible headache, and I gave you a bottle of pills, and nine of the pills would cure you, and one of the pills would kill you, would you take a pill?"

“'Depends on how f**king bad the headache is.'"

Doesn’t get more Jordan than that.

“That little Laker boy’s gonna take everybody one-on-one. He don’t let the game come to him. He just go out there and take. I’m going to make this s**t happen. I’m going to make this a one-on-one game. I figured after the first four attempts didn’t go in, he was gonna chill. After the first four attempts? If I was his teammate, I wouldn’t pass him the f**king ball! You want this ball again, brother, you better rebound.” — Michael Jordan, Episode 5

Well, except maybe this. Jordan ranting about a 19-year-old Kobe Bryant (“that little Laker boy”) in the locker room before the 1998 All-Star game twanged heart-strings I didn’t know I had.

“Everybody says I pushed off. Bulls**t. His energy was going that way. I didn't have to push him that way.” — Michael Jordan, Episode 10

Second point, somewhat conceded. But come on, Mike. You tapped a cheek.

“I knew that Jerry Krause loved Dan Majerle and just because Krause liked him was enough for me. You think he’s a great defensive player? OK, fine. I’m going to show you he’s not.” — Michael Jordan, Episode 6

Jordan’s 41-point average in the 1993 Finals is still an NBA Finals record.

“Clyde was a threat. I'm not saying he wasn't a threat. But me being compared to him, I took offense to that." — Michael Jordan, Episode 5

We could go all day with these.

“He (George Karl) walked past me. And I look at Ahmad, I said, ‘Really?  Oh, so that’s how you going to play it?’ I said, ‘It’s a crock of s**t.’ We went to Carolina. We know Dean Smith. I see him in the summer.  We play golf. And you’re going to do this? OK, fine. That’s all I needed. It became personal.” — Michael Jordan, Episode 8

Seriously.

“You b**ch, f**k you.” — Michael Jordan to Larry Bird, Episode 9

God bless behind-the-scenes footage.

“You can show me whatever you want. There’s no way you can convince he wasn’t an a**hole.” — Michael Jordan, Episode 4

Pick any of the Isiah moments you please. This one represented one of the more poignant Jordan iPad reactions of the series.

Best of the Teammates

“Straight up b**ches.” — Horace Grant, Episode 4

Horace Grant got as real as it gets on the Pistons walk-off after the 1991 Eastern Conference finals. (A trend that’s continued in the wake of the series)

“I’m not going to f**k my summer up” — Scottie Pippen, Episode 1

Scottie Pippen got as relatable as it gets on the rationale behind putting off foot surgery until the beginning of the 1997-98 season. 

“I didn't win without Scottie Pippen, and that's why I consider him my best teammate of all time. He helped me so much in the way I approached the game, in the way I played the game. Whenever they speak Michael Jordan, they should speak Scottie Pippen.” — Episode 1

Frankly, the doc could have featured more of this.

“It’s boom, uh, click, and go back this way. Boom. Here, here. Click and go that way. Boom. That way. Click here, and go back this way.” — Dennis Rodman, Episode 3

 

I could listen to Dennis Rodman talk about rebounding basketballs all day. Other highlights from this segment:

  • “I want to go out there and get my nose broke.”

  • “I want to go out there and cut.”

  • “Something that’s just going to bring out the hurt. The pain. I want to feel that.”

“I don’t care, whatever. What’s up.” — Dennis Rodman, Episode 3

Rodman’s response to Phil Jackson asking if he wanted to play for the Bulls. On the nose, to be sure.

“He (Jordan) knows we would never play (cards) with him in the back (of the team plane), because it’s just too much money. But he would come up to the front and say, ‘What’re you guys doing? Mind if I play?’ And I remember John Paxson looking at him and going, ‘Why in the hell would you want to play with us? We’re playing for a dollar a hand.’ And I remember he looked at him he goes, ‘Because I want to say I got your money in my pocket.’” — Will Perdue, Episode 6

Not a gambling problem, a competition problem.

Moments of Candor

“Break.” — Michael Jordan, Episode 7

Preceded by a nearly tear-filled monologue on the rationale behind his teammate tyranny. One of the emotional heights of the series.

“Look, I don’t have to do this. I’m only doing it because it is who I am. That’s how I played the game. That was my mentality. If you don’t want to play that way, don’t play that way. Break.”

“I don’t get five championships here without him.” — Kobe Bryant, Episode 5

Bryant’s posthumous appearance, in which he details his relationship with Jordan, and the inspiration he derived from him, is equal parts surreal and powerful. In Bryant’s words, everything he did, he got from Jordan. Their bond was fraternal. 

“If I had to do it all over again there is no way I’d want to be considered a role model. It’s like a game that’s stacked against me. There’s no way I can win.” — Michael Jordan, Episode 6

This dovetails powerfully with a key quote from Tim Hallam, longtime Bulls PR maven: “I wouldn’t want to be like Mike. It’s an impossible task.”

“In my mind, I was thinking, ‘Alright, this is it. You’re going to retire Michael Jordan.” — Reggie Miller, Episode 8

A perfect cliffhanger for the finale of Episodes 9 and 10. Miller’s daydream nearly came to fruition — and perhaps should have.

“It’s one of those incidents where I wish it never happened. But if I had a chance to do it over again, I probably wouldn’t change it.” — Scottie Pippen on the 1.8 second game, Episode 7

Scottie Pippen is well aware the smudge Game 3 of the 1994 Eastern Conference semis is on his legacy. But he stunningly revealed he wouldn’t change a thing about it.

“Yeah, let’s not get it wrong: He was an a**hole. He was a jerk. He crossed the line numerous times,” said Will Perdue, a teammate on the first three-peat teams. “But as time goes on and you think about what he was actually trying to accomplish, you’re like, ‘Yeah, he was a helluva teammate.’” — Will Perdue, Episode 7

If there was a mission statement for the entire docuseries, it would be this.

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