Bulls’ position breakdown: Time for some forward thinking this offseason

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Bulls big man Lauri Markkanen should be completely free from distraction this offseason.

Team doctors cleared him to resume full basketball activity last week after a scare related to an accelerated heart rate arose March 26 in Toronto. And Markkanen says he has no obligations to play for Team Finland.

His focus is on working on his game and, more important, on his body.

‘‘I want to get back the strength I had last offseason,’’ Markkanen said. ‘‘Get to that point again, so that I can play some center and help the team.

‘‘I thought when we used that lineup [Markkanen at center], teams had a tough time matching up. It was good for us.’’

A bulked-up Markkanen makes that possible.

The 7-footer added almost 16 pounds of muscle last summer, and the coaching staff was thrilled with the possibilities. The excitement was so high that former coach Fred Hoiberg tweaked the offense to focus on Markkanen.

That all fell into the gutter when Markkanen injured his right elbow during the first week of training camp and missed more than two months.

When he returned, Markkanen was operating at less than full strength well into January. Then came February.

Markkanen put his entire repertoire on display, averaging 26 points and 12.2 rebounds as the Bulls went 5-5 that month.

Now it’s about Markkanen showing that type of output every month.

‘‘The first thing for him is to continue to get stronger,’’ vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said. ‘‘The strength thing for him is key.

‘‘His base has to become better, so he can play lower and against physicality. His ability to put the ball on the floor and create for himself has to improve. And he has to focus on how to get himself open. You don’t have to be the quickest guy in the world to find ways to move your body and get yourself open. Larry Bird was a great example of that. He wasn’t quick, and I mentioned that to Lauri.

‘‘If you play at one speed, you’re easy to guard. If you can change speeds up a little bit to get yourself open, with his ability to shoot, he has so much room to grow. That’s the encouraging thing.’’

So is having Otto Porter Jr. at small forward. His presence gives the Bulls a glue guy on both ends of the court, as well as a player who believes in the intangibles coach Jim Boylen is preaching.

What the Bulls lack at forward is depth. Rookie Chandler Hutchison had some moments before a toe injury ended his season, but most of those moments came on defense.

The depth was so bad at times that Boylen was forced to slide guard Shaq Harrison into a wing spot. Expect the Bulls to upgrade the position during the offseason.

WHOM THE BULLS HAVE: Lauri Markkanen, Otto Porter Jr., Chandler Hutchison, Wayne Selden.


THE DRAFT: If the Bulls wind up out of the top two, that’s when things get interesting. There is depth at forward with RJ Barrett, De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish. If they hit on their 12.5 percent chance to land the No. 1 pick, however, that’s an organizational game-changer, with Zion Williamson accelerating the rebuild.

FREE AGENCY: Power forward Marcus Morris would be a perfect fit, adding toughness on both ends, as well as some outside shooting. He made $5.3 million this season but was highly undervalued.

WILD CARD: Taj Gibson back in a Bulls uniform? Never say never.

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