Bulls VP of basketball operations John Paxson makes rookie shutdown official

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Bulls rookie Chandler Hutchison knew the calendar was working against him at the beginning of March.

Hutchison was dealing with an injured toe on his right foot that was healing slower than expected, but he still had one more scan left and sounded confident that he could get back on the court before the end of the regular season.

On Saturday, however, vice president of basketball operations John Paxson officially shut down Hutchison and fellow rookie Wendell Carter Jr. (surgery on left thumb) for the last three weeks.

“Wendell has amped up his activity, and we’ve mentioned it, but we’re officially ruling him out for the year, as well,’’ Paxson said.

It’s not an ideal way for the Bulls’ 2018 first-round picks to end the season, each playing only 44 games, but Paxson said the organization has big plans and a to-do list for Carter and Hutchison this summer.

For Carter — picked No. 7 overall — it will start in the weight room.

“Wendell has to work on his body, get stronger, more physical,’’ Paxson said. “What he probably learned as a starter this year is some of the big bodies he goes up against every night, and that can be difficult. [Nikola] Vucevic comes to mind for a couple of games that were physically difficult for him. He’s 19. We need him to be in the weight room working. Those are things you can’t fully rush in terms of maturity, but he has a huge upside. And we’re anxious to see how he works this summer.’’

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As for Hutchison, whom the Bulls grabbed with the 22nd pick, it’s about understanding the wing position and, above all, working on his offense.

“The discouraging thing is [Hutchison] was kind of coming into his own a little bit when he got hurt,’’ Paxson said. “The things Chandler does well are his ability to rebound and push the ball. He’s another creator. He’s going to have to spend time in the gym shooting the ball this summer to become a better shooter because we know that’s an important component. But he has the size and length to defend. The way the league is going — where you need versatile players so you can play smaller lineups — he fits that model. We’re encouraged. Young guys, the summers are always important for him and Wendell. It will be a huge one.’’

Hutchison seemed ready to take on the challenge as soon as the foot heals.

“Obviously, it’s a bummer, but I’ve already learned a ton from just being able to observe differently, not thinking about getting caught up in my own thing playing,’’ Hutchison said. “But now I get to talk to some of these guys and pick up a few things that hopefully I can carry over to when I’m healthy and getting out there.’’

An interesting decision

Players, coaches and management all have insisted on how important center Robin Lopez has been to the rebuild, so much so that the Bulls didn’t want to buy him out the last month for the stretch run.

With Lopez facing free agency this summer, and staring at a backup role with the Bulls if he does return, what are the chances that the mutual admiration brings him back?

“Robin has been terrific for us,’’ Paxson said. “We’ll keep an open mind on that, absolutely.’’

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