It sounded so simple. The Bulls’ new front office and coaching staff would use this season to develop the roster, evaluate it along the way and decide which players were keepers and which were expendable.
Twenty-three games in, that plan looks to have gone off the rails.
With starting center Wendell Carter Jr. (severely bruised right quadriceps) already on the shelf for at least another few weeks, the Bulls announced Monday that forward Lauri Markkanen would be joining him. An MRI exam revealed that the blow Markkanen took to his right shoulder against the Magic on Friday had sprained his acromioclavicular joint, an injury that will sideline him for two to four weeks.
An hour before tipoff against the Wizards, coach Billy Donovan announced that forward Otto Porter Jr.’s back is improving but there’s still no clear timetable for his return. And there’s always the lingering worry the injury could be recurring.
But the most concerning news involved 2018 first-round pick Chandler Hutchison, who will stay with the team but won’t play because of undisclosed personal reasons.
“He and I had a discussion the other day in Orlando, and we talked a little bit there, and then we had a chance to talk when we got back here to Chicago,” Donovan said. “I can’t really talk any more about it. The conversations I have had with him have been absolutely terrific. I give him a lot of credit. He’s handled himself like a complete pro. But right now there’s some things he needs to focus on personally, and that’s where his attention is at.
“I don’t know how long he’ll be out. . . . But I just wanted people to know, if he’s not out there, he’s probably going to be on our bench. He certainly wants to be part of the group. And while he’s on the bench, I just didn’t want people to say, just, ‘Why is this guy not playing?’ ”
Like Carter and Markkanen, Hutchison has been hampered by injuries in his young career. As a rookie, he played in 44 games, and last year it was 28. This season, he worked his way back from a bout with COVID-19 but now is shut down again. He has appeared in just seven games.
Carter, Markkanen and Hutchison were all once considered key pieces of the Bulls’ rebuild but now are starting to move toward the “injury-prone” category.
Speaking specifically about Markkanen, Donovan said, “I think that’s very, very fair what you’re saying in terms of looking at someone’s history of being hurt and whether or not he’s injury-prone or those kinds of things. Because these guys are physically putting themselves in harm’s way every night, and the level of physicality in these games, all these guys are susceptible to things like that. [But] I don’t know if I would personally say he’s just an injury-prone guy.”