MILWAUKEE — It has been an easy injury to forget about, especially this season.
Buried in all the injury updates about big man Lauri Markkanen (right elbow), point guard Kris Dunn (left knee) and big man Bobby Portis (right knee), swingman Denzel Valentine’s absence remains almost shrouded in mystery.
What started as a mildly sprained left ankle just before the start of training camp has mushroomed into a bone bruise that has Valentine out indefinitely.
Valentine got close to returning back in September, but after running sprints for several days, the pain in the ankle resurfaced.
The Bulls are feeling Valentine’s absence, especially in flat performances lately.
‘‘We talked a lot about Lauri and Kris, but Denzel is a huge part of what we try to do because of his versatility, and he also has great leadership qualities,’’ coach Fred Hoiberg said Friday. ‘‘In street clothes, he’s always a guy who tries to get in the huddle and talk to them. And another guy is [Portis].
‘‘[Valentine] just has innate leadership qualities, and to have two of those guys out and be unable to rally the troops at times has been tough. [Valentine and Portis] are two of our better leaders, two of our tougher players out there on the floor and guys who can get things done.
‘‘Yeah, Lauri and Kris are huge holes in what we are trying to do, but I’d put Bobby and Denzel up there, as well, because of their intangibles.’’
Valentine’s intangibles are things the second unit really could use, not to mention the 10.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3.2 assists and .386 shooting percentage from three-point range he put up last season.
‘‘Denzel getting hurt was actually very big to us, as well,’’ teammate Justin Holiday said. ‘‘I think we thought that he was going to be back sooner than this point, so maybe that’s why that injury isn’t being talked about as much.
‘‘But especially now that we don’t know the severity of how long he might be out, all that stuff, it’s tough for us. . . . What he brings to the game — him being able to score the ball, him understanding the game defensively, his mind — all that stuff mattered for us. So definitely not having him is hurting us.’’
The other wounded
The Bulls sent Markkanen, Portis and Dunn home Thursday from Milwaukee, so that the three could get in a workout Friday at the Advocate Center.
Hoiberg said all three had solid workouts, but he indicated Markkanen continued making big strides. He shot three-pointers to test his range.
‘‘[Director of player development] Shawn Respert worked out Lauri for about an hour and did a lot of game-type simulations,’’ Hoiberg said. ‘‘We’ll see how he responds to that. He has extended his range and is shooting threes now.
‘‘He’ll get a good workout in [Saturday] before the game [against the Raptors] at the United Center, and hopefully he continues to respond well and we can add to his workload and get him back soon.’’
Earlier in the week, the Bulls backed up the timetable for Markkanen’s return by two weeks. They originally said he would be back in six to eight weeks but now are saying eight to 10 weeks.