Wendell Carter

Injury notes: Latest on Wendell Carter, Otto Porter, Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn

Injury notes: Latest on Wendell Carter, Otto Porter, Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn

Jim Boylen, Wendell Carter Jr. and Otto Porter Jr. spent the majority of their time speaking to media after the team’s first post-All-Star break practice laying a trail of injury-related tea leaves.

Carter has been sidelined with a high ankle sprain since Jan. 6, and Porter hasn’t played since spraining his foot on Nov. 6. Both took part in practice (which featured “some contact” according to Boylen) and are inching closer to respective returns, though nothing is official as of yet.

"Otto participated in practice and got his legs underneath him. Wendell, we kinda put him in for two possessions, then take him out for two and kinda getting him back comfortable," Boylen said.

“Just taking it one day at a time,” said Carter, who said on the Friday of All-Star weekend that he was shooting for a return this Thursday (Feb. 20) against the Hornets. “I practiced today and it felt okay, so I'm just taking it slow. Don't want to rush anything, and end up hurting again, so that's where I'm at right now.

“Depending on the coaching staff, depending on how I'm feeling come game time, of course I want to play Thursday, but I'm [going to] do what's best for the team and for myself."

Boylen declined to say officially whether Carter will be available Thursday, also taking a “we’ll see” approach. Carter is about six weeks into his initial four-to-six week recovery timeline.

Porter, who said he’s “close” to 100 percent, doesn’t yet know when he’ll be back and that “time will tell” how many practices he needs before sliding back into the Bulls’ lineup. He remains without a timetable, and said he is unsure if he’ll be eased back in on a minutes restriction when he is able to return.

“I was able to do everything. I feel good,” Porter said. “I’ll continue it a day at a time, making sure my pain is free."

When asked, Boylen said he doesn’t yet have a clear idea of when Lauri Markkanen (who has been out with a pelvis injury since Jan. 24) might return to practice. This Friday marks four weeks into Markkanen’s initial four-to-six week timeline

There was also no update on Kris Dunn on the two-week anniversary of his initial two-week re-examination timeline for a sprained right MCL suffered against the Nets on Jan. 31.

[RELATED: Bulls preparing for possibility of losing Kris Dunn for rest of season]

Still, things are moving in the right direction for the Bulls on the injury front. The team entered the All-Star break on a six-game losing streak that ties a season-high, but Boylen maintained playing competitive basketball down the stretch remains a goal. At 19-36, they will resume play five games behind the Magic for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.

“I think doing both, I think that's what our challenge is this year,” Boylen said of the team’s dual objectives of winning and developing. “Part of development is you hope to play in some meaningful games, and we've had a couple of those situations this year compared to last year, and I'm hoping we can have more. I'm hoping.

"Health is part of that and just getting better. I got a good group of guys that play hard, and we gotta continue to do that, and hopefully improve as we go down the stretch here.”

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Developing the young core remains the focus over final 27 games for Bulls

Developing the young core remains the focus over final 27 games for Bulls

With the Bulls headed to a third straight trip to the NBA Draft Lottery, the focus over the final two months of the NBA regular season now shifts to the development of the team’s core players.

Wendell Carter Jr. should be ready to go after missing the last 18 games before the All-Star break because of a high ankle sprain. Carter Jr. has already established himself as a quality defender and screener, but we still don’t have any idea what his ceiling could be as an offensive player. Before he was injured in early January, Carter Jr. had started mixing a couple of 3-point attempts into his shot profile, and while his success rate of 21.4% is nothing to get excited about, his shooting form suggests he should be able to improve over time.

Not many NBA teams are using dumping the ball into the low post as a big part of their offense, but the Bulls should try to get Carter Jr. more touches with his back to the basket to keep defenses honest. During his one collegiate season at Duke, Carter Jr. showed the ability to finish with either hand near the rim, and he has the ability to draw fouls against taller centers. NBA analytics will tell you layups, dunks and 3-pointers are the way to go in the modern game, but Carter Jr. is capable of getting some easy baskets inside and stepping out to knock down mid-range jumpers. Whether Carter Jr. becomes a consistent 3-point threat or not, he still can be a bigger part of the Bulls offense. 

The Bulls are also hoping to get starting forwards Lauri Markkanen and Otto Porter Jr. back at some point in the coming weeks. We pretty much know what Porter Jr. is at this point, a capable 3-point shooter and solid third scoring option. Problem is, Porter Jr. has been dogged by injuries over his NBA career, the latest being a fractured foot that’s cost him most of the season. There’s virtually zero chance Porter Jr. passes up his $28 million player option for next season, so he’ll be on the roster next season.

All kinds of questions about Markkanen, who was going through a puzzling third-year slump before being sidelined with a stress reaction to his pelvis. Markkanen was expected to make the jump to All-Star level status this season, but he got off to a poor shooting start and didn’t show the kind of aggressiveness on the offensive end we had come to expect. Markkanen says the new offensive system calls for him to be more of a spot-up 3-point shooter, which has limited his ability to attack the basket or post up against smaller defenders.

Whatever the reasons for his regression this season, the Bulls would love to get Markkanen back on the court at some point over the final two months just to give him a chance to reestablish his effectiveness at the offensive end and give him some positive feelings heading into the offseason. Markkanen will also be eligible for an extension to his rookie contract this summer, and those negotiations could prove to be difficult with the 7-foot forward having missed so many games because of injury over his first three seasons.

Another big question mark for the Bulls involves the point guard position. Tomas Satoransky was signed as a free agent last July with the idea he would handle the starting position until top draft pick Coby White was ready to run the offense on a regular basis. The Bulls have used White as an instant offense shooting guard off the bench, but he has been getting more chances to run the point in recent games, dishing out a career-high nine assists against the Pelicans on Feb, 6 and seven helpers against Washington in the last game before the All-Star break. Why not give White more opportunities to play as a point guard with Zach LaVine on the court, giving the Bulls another shot creator to ease some of the defensive pressure against LaVine.

While the season began with talk of making the playoffs, the bigger objective was developing the players who can make the Bulls more than a seventh or eighth seed in future seasons. If you’re looking for bright spots, it looks like Chandler Hutchison has figured out how he can be effective at the NBA level as a slashing small forward who can finish at the rim with power. If Hutchison can improve his outside shot and stay healthy, the Bulls might just have a long term answer at that position.

Now it’s about continuing to develop the so called “core four” of LaVine, Markkanen, Carter Jr. and White. The Bulls are hoping they’ll have a better idea by season’s end whether this is the right nucleus to build around or if it’s time to consider significant roster changes this summer.

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Wendell Carter Jr. has high hopes: For return from injury and All-Star acclaim

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USA TODAY

Wendell Carter Jr. has high hopes: For return from injury and All-Star acclaim

Wendell Carter Jr. badly wanted to play in the Rising Stars Challenge on the Friday night of All-Star weekend. Especially with the festivities taking place in his ‘home’ city of Chicago.

But Carter is still recovering from a high ankle sprain suffered Jan. 6 in a loss to the Mavericks — an incident that tipped a devastating set of injury dominoes for the Bulls and has further derailed their season. Unable to play, Zion Williamson slotted onto Team USA’s roster as Carter’s replacement.

Still, Carter acknowledged that being selected to the team at all is a tremendous honor, and a marker of the growth of his game.

“It just shows that I've been playing how I'm supposed to play throughout this last year, and that people see a lot of potential in me,” Carter said at Friday morning’s Rising Stars media circus. “It feels good, just the fact that I was recognized as one of the great second-year players in the league.”

Around the corner from Carter were twin tsunamis of reporters clamoring for Zion Williamson and Ja Morant’s favor. Beside him, standout Heat rookie Tyler Herro, and behind, Trae Young. The list goes on, but Carter was in good company.

And deservedly so. Before spraining his ankle, Carter was making a veritable jump forward in his second season, averaging nearly a double-double (11.7 points, 9.9 rebounds) while anchoring both the Bulls’ defense and locker room. Since Carter’s absence began, the Bulls own the 19th-rated defense in the NBA (113.1), resulting in a drop from No. 6 in the league on Jan. 7 (105.6) to No. 13 (108.2) just a month later.

But this weekend, the Bulls’ tumultuous season can be far from Carter’s mind. Instead, he has the chance to rub elbows with some of the top players in the world — young and old, new acquaintances or long-time friends. Carter said he knows most of the first- and second-year guys selected for the Rising Stars game from back in high school, and that he keeps an “open line of communication” with as many as he can, as they embark on the next phase of their lives.

As for potential recruiting pitches? Carter hasn’t thought too much into that, even as an unofficial ambassador for the Bulls this weekend. But he has a rough idea of what his sales pitch could look like.

“It can't be the weather, as y'all have seen,” Carter said. “Probably the food. We probably have the best food out of all the cities, that's my pitch.”

Then, further, of what the Bulls are building: “I think it's pretty evident. Everybody kinda sees that we're in a bigger stage, and I feel like we're at a really good place. But we haven't been able to get healthy for a long string of games, so everybody kinda sees the potential in us to know that when we're fully healthy and fully active we're pretty hard to beat.”

In that vein, Carter remains focused on next steps, both for himself and for the Bulls, as a team. On an individual level, that starts with getting healthy. Carter said he’s aiming for the Bulls’ first game after the All-Star break (Thursday, Feb. 20 vs. the Charlotte Hornets) for a return, though that’s of course unofficial.

“I'm definitely feeling a lot better, I'm continuing to do rehab and therapy on my ankle every day,” Carter said. “Just trying to get it feeling right. And I want to be back next game, that's what I'm shooting for right now. I don't know if that's gonna happen, but that's what I'm shooting for.”

For what it’s worth, that return date would mark just over six weeks since his injury, which initially warranted a four-to-six week recovery timeline. 

Once he can get back, Carter maintained the team goal is a playoff berth (they enter the break trailing the eighth-seeded Magic by five games). And, for himself, ultimately becoming the player he believes he can be: An All-Star.

“I definitely think I'm on the right path to becoming an All-Star. When, I'm not sure, but I feel like basically I'm going there,” Carter said. “My respect for the game, the way I play the game, and how effective I am when I play.

“Now that I'm here (at All-Star weekend), you know, it's the game that's above all is the All-Star game. So that's something that I'm shooting for now.” 

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