CHICAGO – The Bulls won’t make any bold predictions about Year 2 of their rebuilding project. They also won’t deny that a growth spurt on the court for Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine would accelerate the process in a big, big way.
The 23-year-old LaVine and 21-year-old Markkanen were front and center Monday when the team held its media day amid cautious optimism for the season ahead.
“I want to see growth,” coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Last year guys made significant progress in their careers, but it’s our job now to take that to the next level.”
That goes for Markkanen and LaVine in particular.
LaVine, Markkanen and guard Kris Dunn were part of the Jimmy Butler trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves shortly after the 2016-17 season. They will be the linchpins of a more up-tempo offense that plays to their athleticism and one that Hoiberg prefers. Camp opens as the Timberwolves listen to trade offers for the unhappy Butler after one season.
“[Butler] did a lot of really good things for the organization, but that’s not our concern,” Bulls Executive Vice President John Paxson said. “We’ve moved on. We have too much to worry about internally ourselves to become a better team.”
In his NBA debut, Markkanen was an All-NBA Rookie team selection on the strength of 15.2 points and 7.5 rebounds a game.
“Man, I just want him to keep building on what he did,” LaVine said. “You know, the sky’s the limit for him.”
Like many of his teammates, however, the noticeably bulked-up Markkanen remains a work in progress. He has to show that he can be a consistent shot-maker and rim protector as well as endure the rigors of the regular-season grind. He said he added 17 pounds to “around 240” over the summer.
Now the 7-footer has an All-Star Game appearance in mind.
“Why not?” Markkanen said. “I don’t know when that’s going to happen, but I definitely set that as a goal.”
Despite a 27-55 record last season, the Bulls had a largely uneventful summer.
Nineteen-year-old center Wendell Carter Jr. (No. 7, Ohio State) and Chandler Hutchison (No. 22, Boise State) were drafted in the first round. Both showed flashes in the Summer League, but neither is expected to be an immediate difference-maker. Oft-injured Jabari Parker was signed to one-year, $20 million deal as a free agent that made him the highest-paid player on the roster. The team has the option for a second year for the Chicago native.
The greatest long-term investment was in LaVine, who said he was healthy again after a torn ACL in February 2017 cut short his past two seasons. He sat out training camp last fall, after which he averaged 16.7 points, 3.9 rebounds and three assists in 24 games.
In July, the Sacramento Kings signed LaVine to a four-year, $78 million offer sheet. The Bulls matched it within hours.
“This year, I was able to get my legs underneath me,” said LaVine, who was in a rehab program at this time a year ago. “Last year, I was coming off the ACL injury at about 60, 70 percent. Now I’m back at 100.”
Notes: Free-agent forwards Kaiser Gates and JaKarr Sampson were signed Monday to round out the preseason roster. ... Longtime TV broadcaster Neil Funk will have his road schedule reduced by 20 games in the regular season.