New roles, new expectations for Bulls’ Lauri Markkanen and Coby White
Both were counted on as pillars in the rebuild last season, and now Markkanen and White find themselves just key reserves. Not easy for either to swallow, but roles they need to embrace if the Bulls want to see the postseason.
The minutes guard Coby White and forward Lauri Markkanen are playing haven’t changed all that much since the Bulls revamped their roster at the trade deadline last month.
White is still near the 27 minutes a game he was getting despite losing his starting job to Tomas Satoransky, and Markkanen has lost about four minutes a game in his new role off the bench since the Bulls’ acquisitions of center Nikola Vucevic and forward Daniel Theis.
But the expectations for White and Markkanen have changed completely.
It isn’t often that two No. 7 overall picks go from being future foundation pieces to role players during the course of one season, but that’s where Markkanen and White find themselves, like it or not.
‘‘To me, with those two guys, it’s, ‘Just make good basketball plays,’ ’’ coach Billy Donovan said. ‘‘They’re probably not going to be featured guys — [I’m] just calling it like it is — but they’re very important pieces to our team, and we need them to play at a high level.’’
Donovan insisted both still will have plays called for them at certain times. But with the offense now running through the post and White and Markkanen — especially when he’s playing small forward — playing more on the perimeter, they’ll have to adapt to that philosophy.
Hard for each to swallow? Likely, but that’s to be expected.
‘‘With any young guy, you definitely think about that,’’ veteran forward Thad Young said of the demotion White and Markkanen have endured. ‘‘You think about those types of things because you want to have a long, successful career in this league. When you go from starting to a reserve role, it’s tough. I’ve been in a starting role and went to a reserve role, and now I’m back into a starting role. It’s definitely tough.
‘‘But I think those guys have handled it well. They’re coming off the bench and still bringing energy and lots of fire and intensity into the game. And they’re both going to continue to get better and have long careers.’’
But will they be with the Bulls?
White is still on his rookie deal, so he’ll have time to work his way back into the starting lineup. But Markkanen will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season. The market will set a price on him, and the Bulls will have to decide whether to match any offer he gets or let him go. A sign-and-trade is also a possibility, but it would be tougher to pull off.
Until then, however, all White and Markkanen can do is wait their turns.
‘‘I give those guys credit,’’ Donovan said. ‘‘They’ve been really good team guys. They’re trying to do everything we’re asking them to do to put ourselves in position to win.’’
Young confirmed he and most of his teammates received the coronavirus vaccine before the start of this road trip, with only a few players taking a pass on it.
‘‘You had some guys that were just, like, ‘No, I’m not taking it,’ ’’ Young said. ‘‘Nobody was into conspiracy theories or anything like that. Everybody was just a strong no or just, like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to take it.’ I think we only had a couple of guys who didn’t take it. And that was about it.’’
Young, who is left-handed, joked he was the only player on the roster to get the shot in his right arm. He also said his wife was ticked off ‘‘because I got [the shot] and she didn’t. We had talked about getting it together.’’