Former Bull Lauri Markkanen gets a rude welcome in return with Cavs

The Bulls kicked off the preseason in great fashion, dominating the Cavaliers in every aspect. Even sweeter, they showed Markkanen that the change of scenery he pushed for might end up being a big mistake.

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Former teammates Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen chat during Tuesday night’s Bulls-Cavaliers preseason game at the United Center.

Former teammates Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen chat during Tuesday night’s Bulls-Cavaliers preseason game at the United Center.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

His shooting stroke is still pure. Make or miss, that was always going to travel well with Lauri Markkanen.

As for what went wrong during his four-year roller-coaster ride with the Bulls, it was foggy then and wasn’t cleared up any more Tuesday when Markkanen returned to the United Center for the first time since a three-way trade sent the 7-footer to Cleveland over the summer.

Speaking with reporters, Markkanen admitted he’d needed to leave the only NBA team he’d known — and largely left it at that.

“I don’t really need to go into all the details with you guys,” he said when asked when he made up his mind that he wanted out. “But I felt like a change of scenery was going to be good for me. And I’m happy with the position that I’m in now.

“When I was here, [the Bulls] treated me well. Things just didn’t go as planned. But I have nothing bad to say about them.”

The feeling is mutual. Coach Billy Donovan said Monday that he’d wanted Markkanen to return this season and had spoken to him personally about it several times after last season ended. He mapped out Markkanen’s role, let him know how important he was and even had plans to visit him in Finland if need be. But he quickly knew that there was no fixing the situation.

Pressed to explain when he felt his time with Bulls went south, Markkanen said, “I’ve always been professional. I’m going to come in and do my job every night. At the end of the year, I thought about my options. And that’s what I felt at the end of the year.”

Markkanen got his change of scenery, and the Bulls showed him in Tuesday’s preseason opener exactly what he walked away from, blistering the Cavaliers 131-95.

Markkanen was 1-for-7 in his first 12 minutes played — all off the bench — and 0-for-2 from three-point range. He finished with 13 points on 4-for-10 shooting.

He said he was glad to get the return out of the way — although he’ll play in Chicago twice during the regular season.

The new-look Bulls were glad to get the first preseason game out of the way, too. After spending the last week pounding on each other in intrasquad scrimmages, it was time to see what they could do against another team — and they dominated. The starting five of Javonte Green, Lonzo Ball, Nikola Vucevic, Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan all finished plus-30 or higher, with Vucevic and LaVine leading the way at plus-45.

With Ball as the lead guard, LaVine scored 25 points in just 24 minutes.

“I think that’s something Zach is getting comfortable with,” Donovan said. “Now he’s in position where shots are being generated for him.”

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