After Lauri Markannen's injury, the challenges continue for Fred Hoiberg


At this point, you couldn’t blame Fred Hoiberg for wondering what else could possibly go wrong when it comes to injuries. His first Bulls’ training camp was ruined when Derrick Rose got caught with an elbow by Taj Gilbson and suffered a fractured orbital bone. 

And, who will forget what happened last season when a practice fight between Bobby Portis and Niko Mirotic left both players unavailable for the start of the season, virtually guaranteeing a poor start.

Now, less than one week into training camp, Hoiberg loses his best player, Lauri Markkanen, for the next 6 to 8 weeks because of a high grade right elbow sprain suffered when he was battling for a rebound. 

How will this impact the 2018-19 season? Initially, Hoiberg will have to delay the plan to play free agent addition Jabari Parker exclusively at small forward. Parker is expected to start in Markkanen’s power forward slot in Sunday’s pre-season opener against New Orleans, with veteran Justin Holiday getting the start at small forward.

Don’t be surprised if that’s the way the Bulls go in the regular season opener on October 18th. The coaching staff understands what a valuable weapon they have in Bobby Portis coming off the bench against 2nd unit bigs, and they may choose to keep that rotation in place. Holiday can provide 3 point shooting from the wing, while Parker should be comfortable in the position he played for most of his first 4 seasons in the NBA.

Still, the injury to Markkanen will delay the process of building chemistry between Parker and the Bulls’ 4 returning starters. Parker conceded as much after Saturday’s practice. “It’s deflating because that’s one of our key pieces. And I think that’s just going to put us behind, especially me trying to figure out chemistry. But as long as he is around then we’re going to try to do it another way instead of on the court.”

Markkanen also met with reporters, joking the injury will give him time to work on his left hand, and he plans to come back better than ever. But for a young team trying to find its way in year two of the rebuild, losing a rising star is not the way to start the new season.

If all goes well, Markkanen should be back by mid-November, but how many games can the Bulls win while he’s out? They already were facing a demanding early season schedule that suddenly looks even more daunting. 

On the plus side, Hoiberg does have a deep roster, and the Markkanen injury should open up some playing time for 1st round pick Chandler Hutchison at the small forward spot. Look for the Bulls to start Robin Lopez, Parker, Holiday, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn on opening night, with the 2nd unit made up of Wendell Carter Jr., Portis, Hutchison, Denzel Valentine (currently sidelined with an ankle injury) and Cameron Payne. 

If Hoiberg decides it’s more important to get Parker comfortable at the small forward spot, he could open the season with Portis starting at power forward. Portis is coming off another outstanding summer and looks more comfortable than ever shooting from 3 point range. He could provide 15-18 points and 6-8 rebounds nightly in a starting role if that’s the direction the coaching staff decides to go. 

The upcoming 5 game pre-season schedule suddenly takes on more importance than ever as Hoiberg tries to figure out the best rotation with Markkanen out. There aren’t any easy answers, but the good news is that Markkanen doesn’t need surgery and should be ready to play after missing about 15-20 games. 

Bulls Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations John Paxson summed it up when he told reporters, “Sometimes you wonder why. But this is sports. You just have to move on. The games are going to come. But it’s a blow to us.”

Now it’s up to Hoiberg and his assistants to find a way to keep the positive off-season momentum going during the opening month without the Bulls’ best player. 

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