Lauri Markkanen’s elbow injury an organizational setback for the Bulls

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Bulls big man Lauri Markkanen’s injured right elbow is expected to heal in six to eight weeks.

There’s no concern about that, especially after vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said Saturday that no surgery is required.

But the damage left by the emotional gut punch might leave some scarring.

All the good vibes coming out of the first week of training camp centered around the Bulls finally witnessing what their own version of a ‘‘Big Three’’ could do.

Guard Zach LaVine was healthy and fully past the minutes restrictions of last season. Point guard Kris Dunn was over his freakish injuries of last season. And Markkanen, maybe the most promising of the three, had added 17 pounds of muscle and was poised to build on his All-Rookie pedigree of last season.

Now, however, the three of them playing together is on hold again, possibly until late November.

‘‘We’ve had our fair share [of injury problems],’’ Paxson said. ‘‘Sometimes you wonder why. But this is sports. You just have to move on. The games are going to come. We’re going to have to play them. Hopefully the continuity we have right now helps us. But it’s a blow to us, no question.’’

The real frustration is that Markkanen, LaVine and Dunn have played only 12 regular-season games together since joining the Bulls on the night of the 2017 NBA Draft. And they weren’t even a good 12 games.


Bulls say elbow injury might keep Lauri Markkanen out 6 to 8 weeks

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With LaVine on a minutes restriction and just getting back from surgery to repair the torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, the Bulls went only 5-7 when the trio played together.

In fact, most of the victories during the Bulls’ 14-8 stretch from early December to mid-January last season came without LaVine, who didn’t return until Jan. 13. So to call the sample size small is an understatement.

That was supposed to change this preseason. LaVine, Dunn and Markkanen, along with newcomer Jabari Parker, were going to start answering many of the lingering questions.

‘‘Obviously, it’s disappointing to be out,’’ Markkanen said. ‘‘It’s such a long offseason, and I worked hard and was just ready to play basketball again. So it’s disappointing. I don’t know how long it’s going to take, but I’m going to be right back.’’

Maybe, but ‘‘right back’’ to what? Parker will move from small forward to his natural spot at power forward while Markkanen is out, but this is about developing the entire young core. That’s why this is more than just an injury setback; it’s an organizational setback.

Another slow start might mean the difference between the Bulls competing after the All-Star break or going back into tanking mode. It might mean the difference for coach Fred Hoiberg, who either will be in line for a contract extension or will finish the fourth season of his five-year deal dangling in the wind.

‘‘You can’t worry about that,’’ Hoiberg said. ‘‘This is part of it. A lot of teams go through what we’re going through right now, and you just have to make the best of the situation.

‘‘Guys just have to understand that they’re going to get a great opportunity. You’ve got to be ready to take advantage of situations when these types of things present themselves.’’

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