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Bulls take hit in middle with Wendell Carter Jr. out at least a month

The early hope was that the right quad bruise suffered last week by Carter would be a short-term blow, but an MRI revealed the severity of the injury, and now it’s four more weeks on the shelf for the oft-injured center.

The Bulls’ Wendell Carter Jr. will be out at least four weeks.
The Bulls’ Wendell Carter Jr. will be out at least four weeks.
Sue OgrockiAP

Bulls coach Billy Donovan has been begging for some physicality and force from his team over the last couple of weeks.

Who would have guessed that the most significant damage would have been provided by the knee of Denzel Valentine against his own teammate?

After practice Tuesday, the Bulls announced that the collision that occurred last week between Valentine and Wendell Carter Jr.’s right quadricep had resulted in worse news than previously thought.

An MRI showed that Carter’s bruise is more severe than anticipated, and instead of getting the third-year starting center back at the end of the week, as was hoped, he will be out at least four weeks before being re-evaluated.

“Because he had some swelling in that area, they wanted to wait for the swelling to go down and do the MRI,’’ Donovan said. “And I think the MRI really showed it’s a pretty significant bruise, it’s going to take some time to heal, and then obviously get him back on the court.

“The hard part I think for him and the length and period of time is, one, to let him heal, and then the other part of it is once he does heal, we gotta get him back running and moving and conditioning and doing those things, and that’s gonna take some time too.’’

This isn’t Carter’s first injury.

After being selected No. 7 overall in the 2018 draft, Carter’s rookie year was cut short after just 44 games when he had to have thumb surgery. Last season, he dealt with an ankle and an abdomen injury while only playing 43 games.

“I really feel bad for him,’’ Donovan said. “He’s obviously battled some things over the early part of his career in the NBA and he’s had some significant time lost for different situations, and I think Wendell’s a great guy, he’s a good team guy, he’s worked hard to get himself ready, it was just kind of a freak thing that happened in practice and just feel bad he’s gotta miss the amount of time he’s gonna miss.’’

It’s a feeling shared by Carter’s teammates.

“It’s tough for sure,’’ forward Patrick Williams said. “We all know how much he wants to be out there with us. He’s just a guy who loves to play the game. It’s tough for him and to see him go down. But we got pros on this team. And we know that they have to step up.’’

So who exactly will be asked to step up? That’s where it will get interesting.

Daniel Gafford is the backup center on the depth chart, and while he provides rim protection and athleticism in the paint, he doesn’t provide the screening that Carter does, and he’s not even close to being the facilitator Carter is.

Lauri Markkanen has played minutes at the five in almost every game, but the Bulls become less physical when he’s playing center.

For now, it’ll likely be center by committee, with the personnel on the opposing team dictating the best matchup.

“Anytime you lose a player, you know you’re not going to have somebody recreate that player on your roster, and I don’t think it’s fair to ask other players to recreate that player,’’ Donovan said. “Wendell’s got specific and unique skill sets to his game.

“We’re going to have to do it in some different ways, with some different guys, you know maybe be a little bit different in some ways . . . we’re going to be significantly smaller and there’s not as much physicality up front. So we’re going to have to work through that as a team.’’