Lauri Markkanen strolled by gathered media Wednesday with a smile on his face and a brace on his right arm.
Asked if anything could be read into that smile, coach Fred Hoiberg offered up a cruel dose of reality.
“Still the same [timetable],’’ Hoiberg said. “He’s working on range of motion now. He’s still in the brace most of the day.’’
And just like that, the most understated preseason injury in the Eastern Conference moved into Week 2.
The Bulls have done their best to try to gloss over Markkanen spraining his right elbow on the third day of camp, but it slowly has transformed an organization with aspirations of sneaking into the bottom of the playoff seeding into possibly another season of tanking.
Hoiberg came into the season ready to hand the scoring reins to the 7-footer, drawing up a lot of offensive sets that would go through Markkanen, who made the 2017-18 All-Rookie first team.
Not only that, but Markkanen also made it possible for Jabari Parker to start at small forward, while keeping a solid bench with Justin Holiday and Bobby Portis headlining the reserves.
Holiday was forced into the starting lineup through the first three preseason games, and it’s apparent the Bulls sorely miss Markkanen’s outside shooting, and his absence has disrupted the rotation.
Enough so that Hoiberg was again experimenting with starting lineups against the Pacers, going with Parker off the bench and moving Portis into the vacancy left by Markkanen.
Asked if his team was suffering from a Markkanen hangover, Hoiberg did his best to downplay it.
“I don’t know if it’s a hangover,’’ Hoiberg said. “Roles changed at that time with Lauri out for an extended period.
‘‘But you can’t use that as an excuse for going out and taking bad shots and splintering when you hit adversity. I don’t care who’s on the floor; you’ve got to find a way to battle through those tough stretches, and it’s an area we need to get better at.’’
The start of the regular season is a week away, and the six-to-eight-week timetable for Markkanen’s return is not on the quick side.
With his right arm in a brace most of the day, he can do conditioning and shoot with his left hand, but for a guy who came into camp with 17 pounds of added muscle, there’s no doubt some of that bulk will be lost.
And when he does get back, what type of team will he return to?
Will Zach LaVine and Parker stand down for the offense to focus back on Markkanen?
Either way, Markkanen’s injury was a huge setback, and the Bulls are still feeling the repercussions.
Denzel Valentine (left ankle) hasn’t practiced since suffering the injury last week, but Hoiberg said he’s starting to get more work on the floor.
The Bulls play their last preseason game Friday, and it’s doubtful he’ll be available. Hoiberg, however, was still hoping to have him ready for the start of the regular season in Philadelphia.
“Yeah, we’ll see how he responds these next couple of days,’’ Hoiberg said. “He’s day-to-day.’’