Lauri Markkanen set to return for Bulls

The Bulls are worth paying attention to these days. They have an interesting young core of talent and are putting up some wins lately. Here’s the Chicago Sun-Times on the latest twist:

To say that Lauri Markkanen entered this season with a lot to prove is a major undersell, especially considering the Bulls organization and the forward’s camp couldn’t even agree on anything close to an extension price.

Markkanen’s response was to take an almost “bet on myself’’ approach, and through the first three games he seemed to do just that, averaging 20 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. In all losses, however.

Then the calf flares up in Washington, Markkanen is put on the shelf, and then stays on the shelf when the league’s coronavirus protocol red flags him through contract tracing.

What’s happened since?

The Bulls won three of their next four without the 7-footer, and then went toe-to-toe with both Los Angeles teams last weekend.

Along the way, coach Billy Donovan has developed a closing unit of Coby White, Zach LaVine, Garrett Temple, Thad Young and – when the back spasms aren’t acting up – Otto Porter Jr.

But now Markkanen has been cleared to practice, is getting his conditioning back, and is expected to return to the starting lineup on Friday when the team plays in Oklahoma City.

Former Bulls coach Jim Boylen speaks

The Bulls a few days ago said goodbye to head coach Jim Boylen. Although no one really knew when the move was coming, it isn’t a surprise that it did happen. Here’s NBC Sports Chicago reporting:

“I loved every minute of working for the Bulls, even the hard ones,” Boylen said in a phone conversation with NBC Sports Chicago. “And I invested myself fully in every aspect of the job.”

Until Friday. That’s when new executive vice president Artūras Karnišovas fired Boylen, ending his five-season stint with the organization that featured three-plus seasons as Fred Hoiberg’s associate head coach. Boylen’s tenure in the big seat concluded with a 39-84 record.

“Artūras was very respectful. I understand why he would want to have his own guy. I really enjoyed getting to know him and (general manager) Marc Eversley,” Boylen said. “I’ve got 13- and 15-year-old girls that miss their dad. So I’m going to do a little carpooling and just prepare myself for the next opportunity.” …

“Jerry and Michael (Reinsdorf) and (former executive vice president) John (Paxson) asked me to bring more discipline to the practice facility and practice floor,” Boylen said. “My marching orders were for us to practice harder, play harder and defend better.”

The Bulls finished this shortened season with a 22-43 record. The team has an intriguing young nucleus, but the team’s only reliable scorer is Zach LaVine. Players like Lauri Markkanen, Coby White, Wendell Carter Jr. and Otto Porter Jr. all have talent and potential, but it’ll take time — certainly more than one season — as well as a great coaching staff, to help the squad grow into winners.

Three Bulls players who could benefit from the NBA resuming the 2019-20 season

NBA play has been on hold since mid March. In the next week or two, we could get word on if the 2019-20 season will resume, possibly by late July. Here’s the Chicago Sun-Times reporting on some Bulls players who might benefit from regular season play resuming, as opposed to being cancelled:

Three Bulls that would most benefit from a restart:

1. Coby White — The rookie is unbeaten as the starting point guard, earning the nod against Cleveland just before the coronavirus shutdown hit the NBA. Five to 10 more games could at least show the new front office that White does have solid enough point guard skills that they could look at a different position when the draft does take place.

2. Lauri Markkanen — Last we left the 7-foot enigma, he was unhappy with the current structure of his own organization. That was reported by multiple media outlets, including the Sun-Times. A big part of that structure has changed in the front office, however, and more could be on the way with the coaching staff.

3. Otto Porter Jr. — The veteran forward makes the Bulls better when he plays. The record and stats back that up. The problem is he has seldom played since being acquired last season, and needs to start showing some reliability.

The Bulls were nowhere near a playoff team this season. But one idea being floated around is a play-in tournament that might give all 30 squads a shot at the postseason.

Some Bulls frontcourt questions

The Chicago Bulls are a work in progress. A squad in construction. A team for the future.

Here’s NBC Sports Chicago pondering some questions on the team’s frontcourt:

While the backcourt is starting to take shape, the frontline is loaded with question marks. Was Lauri Markkanen’s slump in his third NBA season just an outlier, or will the Bulls have to adjust their evaluation on his potential? Can Wendell Carter Jr. have success as an undersized center and find a consistent role in the offense? Can Otto Porter Jr. stay healthy long enough to contribute?

Markkanen’s future is the biggest question facing the franchise right now. Was he held back by the changes to the offensive system this season, or does he simply lack the aggressiveness necessary to average 20 points and 10 rebounds over a full season? …

The Bulls also were hoping to bet a better read on Carter and Porter over the final 17 games. Carter missed about six weeks of game action because of a serious ankle sprain, but was just rounding back into game shape when the suspension hit.

The Bulls were 22-43 when NBA league play was put on hold a few weeks ago. They have Zach LaVine’s scoring, and plenty of young potential building blocks, but across the roster as a whole, almost as many questions as they have answers.