Bulls deal with more injury news as season spirals away

Luke Kornet is the latest Bull to be hit with bad injury news. He’s likely out for the rest of the season. But there could be three players returning soon, and all eyes will be on them.

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 Wendell Carter Jr. could return Saturday against the Knicks.

Wendell Carter Jr. could return Saturday against the Knicks.

Jim Mone/AP

Forget the Bulls’ 20-39 record with only 23 regular-season games left.

Ignore that of those 20 victories, only three have come against potential playoff teams, and that includes two early wins against the Grizzlies.

Those numbers are sad on their own.

But try to wrap your brain around this: The Bulls have just as many rotation players in the training room as they have victories since Jan. 1 — seven bodies down and only seven wins since the calendar flipped to 2020.

And the news wasn’t getting much better Thursday.

Before practice ended, the team announced that Luke Kornet’s sprained left ankle turned out to be a broken bone in his left foot, basically shelving him for the season with a timetable of six to eight weeks. The 7-2 stretch five joins Kris Dunn (right MCL sprain) as the two players likely to miss the rest of the season. Denzel Valentine (hamstring), Lauri Markkanen (right pelvis), Wendell Carter Jr. (right ankle), Otto Porter Jr. (left foot) and Chandler Hutchison (shoulder) are all expected back.

Expected being the key word.

Valentine could play Saturday in New York, but Hutchison’s shoulder is an ongoing issue with one setback after another.

That leaves Carter, Porter and Markkanen, and huge questions surround all three as they near returns.

Wendell Carter Jr.

What he has done this season: After only playing 44 games last season as a rookie, Carter has been limited to 37. His scoring and rebounding were up a bit from last season, but he still got into too much foul trouble and looked and played under-sized against bigger centers.

What he needs to show: Carter, like Valentine, could play Saturday against the Knicks and has to prove that his injury issues have been more fluke than trait. It starts there. Very few offensive sets run through him, so it’s about Carter embracing a garbage-man role and earning his meals at the rim. He is considered the second-best defender on the team to Dunn, and the Bulls could use some physicality in the frontcourt.

Otto Porter Jr.

What he has done this season: Very little. Porter lasted nine games before a foot bruise slowly turned into a fracture. It wasn’t like he impressed in those nine games, either, shooting only 41.7 percent from the field and suddenly looking very slow defensively.

What he needs to show: The Porter situation is tricky because of the finances. There has been little reason for Porter to rush back this season, especially because the product has been so disappointing and the veteran has a $28.4 million player option for next season. The concern is Porter will be a free agent after 2020-21, so he really only has to be good the last three months or so of next season. He’s basically a mercenary. The Bulls must hope he can put the team above his next contract elsewhere.

Lauri Markkanen

What he has done this season: The 7-foot enigma has regressed, forcing the organization to reconsider his standing as a foundation piece. He has been dealing with injuries all season, but more concerning is that he seems to be the first of the young core who has tired of the organizational structure and could look for a way out if there are no changes.

What he needs to show: Return to his form from the previous two seasons, and if that means freelancing on offense and going outside the system, so be it.

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