There are concerns about forward Lauri Markkanen’s health, and rightfully so.
He has experienced a rapid heart rate twice in the last month.
After a quadruple-overtime marathon in Atlanta, Markkanen told reporters that he felt off in the first half and had the initial concerns about a racing heart. He soldiered through, finishing that March 1 victory with 31 points and 17 rebounds, but it bothered him enough to make it public.
Then it happened again early in the Bulls’ loss Tuesday in Toronto. Coach Jim Boylen took note of his low-energy performance and sat him in the second half.
According to a source, Markkanen still was dealing with the rapid heart rate in the locker room at halftime, but he felt better after showering and eating a bit. Then he became light-headed again as the team was getting ready to board the bus for the airport.
The Bulls reached out to the Raptors’ medical personnel, getting a recommendation for a local hospital to take Markkanen for some initial testing.
All those tests came back clean, and when Markkanen felt better Wednesday morning, he jumped on a flight back to Chicago. The fact that it was his second incident, however, led to the decision to shut him down for the rest of the season and continue further testing in the next two weeks just to make sure there isn’t a more serious problem.
“I think it’s always serious when a guy doesn’t feel well,’’ Boylen said. “We always take those things to heart. He’s a big part of what we’re building, an important piece to the future. He’s a young, developing guy.’’
Markkanen is an important “piece to the future’’ of this rebuild, but not the only piece with injury concerns.
The Bulls have built a core that can’t stay healthy. And you can’t blame former coach Tom Thibodeau for that anymore.
Thibodeau became the front office’s scapegoat for the various injury problems during his tenure, but he has been gone for almost four seasons, and the team’s injury problems actually have increased in that time.
Arguably the most important piece of the rebuild because of his talent ceiling, Markkanen played in 68 games his rookie season and dealt with several bumps and bruises, including back issues. He followed that up with only 52 games this season because of an elbow injury and now the rapid heart rate.
Then there’s guard Zach LaVine, who had surgery on the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee midway through the 2016-17 season and has averaged just under 45 games per season since. He missed games while rehabbing his left knee and is out now with tendinitis in his right knee.
Point guard Kris Dunn played in 52 games last season, mostly because of a fluke injury when he landed on his face. But this season, he has been hampered by knee, ankle and back issues, limiting him to 46 games.
Finally, the Bulls acquired forward Otto Porter Jr. last month from the Wizards, but even Porter’s durability is an issue. He played in only 15 games last season and 41 this season.
“We would love to be a team that was healthy all year,’’ center Robin Lopez said. “That’s just not our reality.’’
And that’s a scary thought as this rebuild moves ahead.