Rookie Lauri Markkanen is still sidelined with back issues

SHARE Rookie Lauri Markkanen is still sidelined with back issues
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Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg was hoping to clarify the status of 7-foot rookie Lauri Markkanen, but all he knew Saturday was that no one on the training staff thought his back spasms were anything more than a small setback.

‘‘He’s doing better,’’ Hoiberg said of Markkanen, who is day-to-day. ‘‘He pulled himself out with the assist of the trainers [Friday]. He had some tightness in his lower back. He responded very well to the treatments, felt a lot better [Friday] night. Got another round of treatments [Saturday]. We just feel the smart thing is to be patient with him.

‘‘He’s had a very busy and hectic summer, going from the Summer League to playing in the EuroBasket tournament, not having a lot of time off. He had about a week where he didn’t do much, so he’s just really starting to ramp up his activity level. So the smart thing is to take it slow and make sure he’s 100 percent before we get him back out there.’’

Hoiberg wouldn’t say whether Markkanen would be ready for the Bulls’ preseason opener Tuesday in New Orleans, but he didn’t seem to be losing sleep over it.

‘‘He had it one time this summer where it kept him out for two days, where he had a little bit of soreness in his back, but he got over it quickly,’’ Hoiberg said. ‘‘Again, nobody is concerned about this being a long-term issue.’’

Sad news

Frank Hamblen, who won seven NBA titles as an assistant coach under Phil Jackson, died at 70. No cause of death was released.

Hamblen spent three seasons with the Bulls, helping them win their titles in 1997 and 1998. A native of Terre Haute, Indiana, Hamblen coached in the NBA and the American Basketball Association for 42 years.

Valentine’s time

With Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo all having moved on, roles on the team will have to change. That goes for the leadership department, too.

That might be where 2016 first-round pick Denzel Valentine fits in.

While there are still questions about Valentine’s skill set, his work ethic is almost unmatched. He is proving to be the first player in the gym in the morning and the last one out at night.

‘‘There’s definitely opportunity knocking on the door,’’ Valentine said about his new role. ‘‘I just put in the back of my mind that no matter what happens, I’m going to stay me, put in the work.

‘‘More opportunity is here, [so] I have to grow up a little faster now. I’m spending more time in the gym, spending more time watching film, taking it more seriously with my body.’’

Easy transition

Kris Dunn still is waiting to hear whether he will be the starting point guard, but he won’t lose the spot for lack of preparation.

Dunn, who came over from the Timberwolves in the trade for Butler, said the transition has been made easier because of the communication.

‘‘[The Bulls] made it easy for me,’’ Dunn said. ‘‘They gave me a playbook. The coaches are always talking to me, giving me the right reads for each play, so I know where the guy has to be and how to read the play in certain defensive situations.

‘‘This is my first time playing actual point guard in the NBA. Last year, I didn’t really get to because Ricky [Rubio] was in that position. I’m just trying to get comfortable.’’

Follow me on Twitter @suntimes_hoops.

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com

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