Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg still searching for right mix without Lauri Markkanen
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MILWAUKEE — This Bulls roster is used to body blows after playing without core members Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn for significant amounts of time last season in the first year of a rebuild.
So now, five days after the latest gut punch — 7-footer Lauri Markkanen sidelined for possibly two months with a sprained right elbow — you can say the grieving process was quick.
Is it a setback?
“I mean, yeah, but it’s always adversity no matter what,” guard Denzel Valentine said. “Every year I’ve played on a basketball team, something happened — something major happened where you had to overcome it — so you can look at it two ways: You can let it wear you down, or you can push through it and try and find ways to get better.”
The latter was coach Fred Hoiberg’s focus Wednesday night as the Bulls battled the Bucks in the second game of the preseason. No one had expected life without Markkanen, but for now, that’s the reality.
“Listen, it’s a part of this game, and once it happens, you move past it and try and put your team in the best position possible,” Hoiberg said. “So once we had our meeting the next day, we talked about the combinations we can use to try and make up for his absence.”
Some of those combinations were on display again against the Bucks, with Jabari Parker moving from the three to the four and Justin Holiday back in the starting lineup. But that doesn’t mean Hoiberg will start the regular season that way.
Parker, a natural four, played both forward spots in Milwaukee and will continue to throughout the preseason.
“He’s played, obviously, a majority of his minutes at the four in the early stages of his career,” Hoiberg said. “He’s picked up things very quickly at the three spot, and again, he’s going to have to play both with his versatility. He’s going to have to get reps in both spots. We’ve really liked how he’s handled the four.”
One option Hoiberg won’t explore yet is moving Bobby Portis from his key bench spot to the starting rotation, especially if Holiday continues to struggle with consistency. Hoiberg wants energy off the bench, and Portis supplies that and then some.
“Not to say that it’s going to be exclusively how we handle [Markkanen’s absence], but we liked how it worked out [so far],” Hoiberg said.
Markkanen’s injury isn’t the only one the Bulls are dealing with. Valentine is still sidelined with a sprained left ankle and is hoping to be ready for the start of the season.
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“Just conditioning right now, lifting, and then we’ll take our steps and get on the court a little bit, start touching the ball later on this week and see where I’m at,” Valentine said. “But no rush at all. I want to come back 100 percent and be ready to go.”
The Bulls aren’t nearly at full strength, but Hoiberg reiterated there’s no room to feel sorry for themselves.
“You didn’t see anyone come in sulking or hanging their heads after we found out that Lauri would miss an extended period of time,” he said.