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Spate of injuries hitting Bulls is hindering the supposed rebuild

Just when the Bulls appeared to be digging out of tanking mode into daylight, they abruptly tumbled back into the rabbit hole.


I guess you can’t stop them, predict them, protect against them or have them exorcised by a ghostbuster.

First, young star-in-the-making Lauri Markkanen went down with an elbow injury in the preseason. This happened after he put 17 pounds of Finnish-style muscle on his 7-foot frame during the offseason and was raring to go.

Kris Dunn #32 of the Chicago Bulls drives to the basket against Dwight Powell #7 of the Dallas Mavericks and Dennis Smith Jr. #1 of the Dallas Mavericks in the second half at American Airlines Center on October 22, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

DALLAS, TX - OCTOBER 22: Kris Dunn #32 of the Chicago Bulls drives to the basket against Dwight Powell #7 of the Dallas Mavericks and Dennis Smith Jr. #1 of the Dallas Mavericks in the second half at American Airlines Center on October 22, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 775222261

Then point guard Kris Dunn finally played in his first game of the regular season Monday, only for us to learn Tuesday that he has a moderate sprain of the medial collateral ligament in his left knee and will be out four to six weeks.

Also on the damaged list is swingman Denzel Valentine, who has a deep bone bruise in his left ankle that has put him out of action until further notice. That is the same ankle Valentine had surgery on in 2017.

The snakebit guy has a bad knee, too, naturally. He missed the last two weeks of last season after having arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. That is the same knee he had surgery on in his senior year at Michigan State.

Oh, I almost forgot: He has a surgically repaired right knee, too. That’s from an old injury from high school football.

Other than that, the Bulls are great!


They’re already 0-3, and guard Zach LaVine did some grumbling after the loss Monday to the Mavericks, even though he scored 34 points.

‘‘We gotta run the right sets out there,’’ LaVine said when asked what happened to the Bulls’ mojo in the second half. ‘‘That was the main thing. If we would have run the right plays, got the ball to the right people, I think we would have been all right.’’

Well, guess who calls the sets? Coach Fred Hoiberg.

LaVine’s disgruntlement recalls former Bulls star Jimmy Butler’s frustration with Hoiberg two years ago, when Butler said after a frustrating loss: ‘‘[We] probably need to be coached a lot harder.’’

Bulls’ season already on brink of failure with Kris Dunn out 4 to 6 weeks
Bulls’ Zach LaVine does some finger-pointing after loss, including at himself

This is what happens when the losses pile up. Everybody wants to win, and nobody knows how to do it.

And, of course, how can you even begin when you don’t know from night to night which of your players will be available? Without cohesion, a basketball team can look like a pinwheel with the blades flying off.

The Bulls were purposely lousy last season as they followed the tanking model of rebuilding so popular these days in pro sports. It’s a system that calls for all but throwing games to get better draft picks and trading high-priced players to clear salary-cap room for prospective free agents.

But tanking is delicate work, full of land mines and dead ends. It is best handled by experts. (Think Theo Epstein here.) When tanking works — a la the Cubs winning the World Series in 2016 and the Astros in 2017 — it’s pretty slick. Even the once-dreadful, lose-at-all-costs 76ers have found it productive, getting players such as Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and Markelle Fultz in the process.

Back in 2015, 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie justified his team’s purposeful losing by stating: ‘‘When we have a set of players that can carry us deep, that’s the only way — the only way — to get where we’re going.’’

And how would fans know when that had occurred?

‘‘We’ll all know,’’ Hinkie replied. ‘‘We’ll all know.’’

Maybe the Bulls will know someday. But sometimes it seems they are more injury-prone than the Bears. And football’s a sport where you’re supposed to get hurt.

Every time the Bulls take the floor, we cover our eyes and wait for the next crutch to drop.

LaVine himself seems like fragile goods. Or he used to be, anyway. He had surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in February 2017 and missed the beginning of last season while rehabbing.

Then there’s guard Cameron Payne. He missed the first two months of last season while recovering from surgery on a broken bone in his right foot. It was the same bone he broke while with the Thunder in 2015-16.

So can the Bulls ever be a real, unbroken team?

Success is on the disabled list right now, sadly.

And please hide the banana peels.