Now that Lauri Markkanen is back, the Bulls’ lineup is about to get a face-lift
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HOUSTON — Saturday was only the first step in Bulls big man Lauri Markkanen’s return.
Now the Bulls have to figure out how they will increase his minutes and, more important, how his return will affect their starting lineup and rotations.
Before Markkanen suffered a sprained right elbow at the start of training camp, he was slotted at power forward and Jabari Parker at small forward. Parker didn’t fare well there and returned to his natural spot at power forward when Markkanen went down, only to lose it to Bobby Portis.
Parker vaulted back into the starting lineup when Portis suffered an injury to his right knee, but how long will he hold that spot now that the injured are starting to return?
‘‘Yeah, we’ll have a couple of days to evaluate what we’re going to do with our lineup moving forward,’’ coach Fred Hoiberg said before the Bulls’ game against the Rockets. ‘‘You’re going to see both [Markkanen and Parker] out there as far as the four [power forward] and five [center] positions. Jabari got a lot of work at the three-spot [small forward] before Lauri went down and Bobby went down, so it’s about getting him reacclimated to playing that position, as well. We’ll see how it goes.’’
If the Bulls go with Kris Dunn (when he returns from his injured left knee) and Zach LaVine in the backcourt and Parker, Markkanen and rookie Wendell Carter Jr. up front, that would take Justin Holiday out of the starting lineup. Holiday is arguably the Bulls’ best wing defender and a three-point threat.
It might make more sense for the Bulls to move Parker to the bench and have him lead the second unit. Maybe that’s why Hoiberg wants as much time as possible to decide on the best fits.
One combination Hoiberg has no reservations about is Markkanen and Carter. Carter basically was drafted because the Bulls thought he would complement Markkanen, and now they can start getting a feel of what that will be like.
‘‘I’m excited to see what those guys do out there on the floor together,’’ Hoiberg said. ‘‘I think you’ve got some really exciting combinations that you can look at with those two at the four and five for a long time, especially based on where the league is.’’
Hoiberg has found it easier to refer to Portis (right knee) and Dunn (left knee) as the ‘‘knee guys’’ when talking about them, and he had progress to report about both players.
Both went through a private workout at the arena before the game, and Hoiberg said Dunn might be cleared to take part in full-contact practices this week.
‘‘The plan is to hopefully get him on the practice court this week,’’ Hoiberg said. ‘‘He did the two-on-two, three-on-three stuff that Lauri had done the previous week, and he felt good. He’s still got a little bit of soreness in there, and some of the explosiveness, he’s still not quite 100 percent with that.
‘‘The next step is getting him out there for a five-on-five practice setting, and hopefully he’ll be back this week with that.’’
Portis is slightly behind Dunn in his recovery, so his timetable is still unclear.