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Bulls big man Lauri Markkanen showing he’s more than just a basketball player

DETROIT — The Bulls’ front office and training staff have been exceedingly cautious about Lauri Markkanen returning to the court after his elbow injury, basically protecting the second-year player from himself.

Markkanen himself has been all-in.

And not just about basketball.

Markkanen, born and raised in Finland, has teamed with the Finnish renewable-energy company Neste to promote a message of action against climate change. He has a video for his campaign on his Twitter account and even took a poke at President Donald Trump, posing with a rake in one photo after Trump claimed Finland raked its forest floors to help prevent wildfires.

“Anybody need their floors raked?” Markkanen posted.

“I was just having fun,” he said Friday. “That was a carefully thought post, I’ll say that. I want people to see my personality and not just this [basketball player]. But at the same time, I want to be cautious because there are people who have lost everything [in the California fires]. So I didn’t want to go too far or anything. Just have a little fun. And I did donate [to the Red Cross], too. I felt like that was the way to go.”

This campaign — #Don’tChoke — means a lot to Markkanen.

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“I feel like I have the platform to try and make a change,” he said. “And that thing is really close to my heart. Just looking at where I grew up, having nature all around me, that was really important. We used to have all the snow in the world. But I don’t think we even have snow right now in Finland. And it’s almost December. That’s one obvious sign that something is happening, so I want to try and make a change.”

Markkanen also has given up red meat as a way to start “minimizing my personal carbon footprint.”

As for his return with the Bulls, while coach Fred Hoiberg won’t say it, expect Markkanen to make his season debut at some point next week. He went through another full-contact practice Thursday and an individual workout Friday, with no setbacks.

“We’re getting there,” Hoiberg said. “We’re getting closer, and we’re still taking it day-by-day, but the important thing now is he’s doing a little more each day with the contact.”

Sager Strong

The Bulls’ and Pistons’ coaching staffs wore “Sager Strong” T-shirts for Friday night’s game in honor of the late announcing icon Craig Sager. The NBA declared Friday and Saturday “Craig Sager Jacket Days” to promote cancer awareness.

“I was never interviewed by Craig as a player,” Hoiberg said. “The first time I was was when I was coaching in the NCAA Tournament, and to have the opportunity to be interviewed by Craig was always something you thought about. To get that opportunity was really cool.

“We’ve all been touched by [cancer] one way or another, and just to be able to honor Craig by wearing this shirt and hopefully raise some awareness for cancer research is very important.”