Lauri Markkanen

Bulls Notes: Boylen, Markkanen, Payne

Critics have called on coach Jim Boylen to make the 3-point shot a greater part of his offense, but the Bulls don’t have the personnel to make that strategy work, writes Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times.

“What we haven’t done is finished very well at those plays at the rim,” Boylen said in response to a question this week. “That’s where we have to grow. Then it’s finishing at the rim, maybe the defense takes it away, and now you spray out [to the 3-point line]. Who are we spraying out to? Well, we’re going to keep working at that.”

Lauri Markkanen has been the team’s most efficient 3-point shooter, but he doesn’t rank in the league’s top 20. The Bulls are 19th in the NBA in 3-point shooting percentage at 34.7%, but are 26th in the number of shots taken and tied for last in makes.

“Sometimes you don’t have the personnel to become a team that’s in the top 10 in 3-point attempts, and makes, and field-goal percentage,” Zach LaVine said. “I think we can take more, but we’d have to be hunting them, and certain guys have to hunt them.”

There’s more news out of Chicago:

  • The Bulls shouldn’t be so quick to commit to Boylen beyond this season, argues Jon Greenburg of The Athletic. He notes that the organization didn’t really conduct a coaching search before hiring Fred Hoiberg in 2015 and contends that Boylen is too similar to what management decided it didn’t want when it fired Tom Thibodeau. Greenburg mentions current Grizzlies assistant Jerry Stackhouse as a bold hiring the team could make.
  • Markkanen is still finding his way after missing the first part of the season with an elbow injury, relays Sam Smith of The second-year forward is averaging 17.0 PPG since returning to action, but hasn’t become the focus of the offense that many had hoped, taking just 14.6 shots per night.“I’d rather have plays where I get good shots rather than trying to force something up,” he explained. “I think it all starts from being aggressive and getting to my spots, try to make the right basketball plays.”
  • Taking a chance on Cameron Payne wasn’t a bad gamble, Smith writes in a question-and-answer column. The Bulls waived Payne last week after giving up Taj Gibson, Doug McDermott and a second-round pick to acquire him in 2017. But Smith says the front office never intended to re-sign Gibson or McDermott, so it didn’t hurt to take a chance on a former lottery pick.

Central Notes: Bulls, Thompson, Pistons, Carter

As the Bulls continue to navigate their way through the early stages of a rebuild, their core players have struggled most of the time they have been on the floor together. Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times writes that the core of Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen look confused when sharing the floor together and at this point, still have more questions than answers.

A big reason for this confusion is the injuries that have plagued each player. In fact, Cowley points out that the three players have only played in 15 games together, despite joining together after the Jimmy Butler trade in June 2017.

The Bulls have since added Wendell Carter to the mix and have changed coaches, which will surely continue to create confusion among their growing core. Of course, as the rebuild continues, there will be more faces added to the mix to compliment this core.

There’s more from the Central division:

  • Cavaliers big man Tristan Thompson played a key role during Collin Sexton‘s recent stretch of promising play, but has missed the past ten games due to a foot injury. As Chris Fedor points out, Sexton has struggled in recent weeks without his pick-and-roll partner alongside him.
  • After their blowout loss to the Pacers, Rod Beard of The Detroit News reveals that the Pistons held a team meeting last week, with coach Dwane Casey and some of the team’s veterans sharing some positive words about how it went.
  • Wendell Carter has continued to prove he belongs in the league, providing energy and hustle plays on both ends of the floor. Sam Smith of the Bulls team website writes about how Carter is focusing on growing and learning each time he steps on the court.

Bulls Notes: Markkanen, Leadership Committee, More

While not every Bulls player was on the original group text that discussed a possible boycott of last Sunday’s practice, Lauri Markkanen was — and his voice “resonated immediately” when he urged teammates to show up, writes K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune.

“I thought that was a more professional way to go about it,” Markkanen said of going to the team facility on Sunday. “I thought about other members of the staff. Like, they show up to work. Obviously, this isn’t the main point, but some of the staff lives an hour away and they come to work. I try to think how disrespectful that is to tell them that we wouldn’t show up.”

As Johnson details in that story, Markkanen believes he can be one of the leaders of the Bulls, and it appears he’ll get the opportunity to play that part. As Johnson tweeted on Thursday, the team’s new “leadership committee” will be comprised of Zach LaVine, Robin Lopez, Justin Holiday, Bobby Portis, and Markkanen. According to Johnson (Twitter link), the committee was originally just going to be four players, but Markkanen asked to be added.

Here’s more from out of Chicago:

  • With the Bulls facing plenty of outside criticism for the drama involving Boylen and his team, executive VP of basketball operations John Paxson pushed back this week against those critics, as Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times relays. The only thing that discourages me is when there are storylines out there and no one asks us our side of the story,” Paxson said. “It’s easy to look from the outside in and gather information from other people around the league that you know, but if you’re not coming directly to us, how do you really know? I’m confident in what we’re doing. … There’s so much noise out there, so much negativity. I don’t feel it inside our building or our locker room. Like I said, I think that what happened the last week, long term, will be a good thing.”
  • Addressing the situation in Chicago on Thursday, commissioner Adam Silver said that no one from the players’ union contacted him this week about the Bulls, and he plans to stay out of matters relating to the “operation of any particular team.” Cowley has the details and the quotes for The Sun-Times.
  • K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune answered several Bulls-related questions in his mailbag earlier this week.
  • Earlier today, we passed along word that the Bulls have engaged in some Jabari Parker trade talks. That full story is right here.

Latest Details On Bulls’ Sunday Meetings

As we relayed on Sunday, the Bulls held a pair of meetings on Sunday following the worst loss in franchise history on Saturday, with the players participating in the first meeting before being joined by the coaches for the second one. K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune and Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic have since provided more details on what happened on Sunday, reporting that those meetings were a compromise of sorts.

As Johnson and Mayberry explain, new head coach Jim Boylen pulled his starters early on Saturday in a “premeditated” move, vowing to put the team through another grueling practice on Sunday. Having played back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday, Bulls players pushed back against the idea of another intense practice on Sunday, using a team-wide group text to discuss the possibility of boycotting that practice, or showing up at the team facility together and then walking out.

However, Lauri Markkanen and Robin Lopez expressed concern about the “unprofessionalism” of a potential boycott, sources tell Mayberry. Veteran Bulls were also concerned about the impact that a major act of rebellion could have on the club’s younger, less established players, Mayberry adds. Ultimately, the players decided to show up and voice their concerns with Boylen and his staff, which led to the compromise — the practice didn’t happen, but the two meetings did.

Boylen’s initially-stated desire to push the Bulls hard again on Sunday after back-to-back games reflects the approach he has taken since replacing Fred Hoiberg as the team’s head coach a week ago. As Mayberry details, Boylen has been putting the Bulls through long, rigorous practices since taking over last Monday.

Last Tuesday, for instance, according to Mayberry, the team’s shootaround in Indianapolis exceeded 90 minutes. After the Bulls lost to the Pacers that night, Boylen immediately made players watch clips of their turnovers and poor defensive rebounding, then emerged from the locker room to tell reporters that his players needed to improve their conditioning and toughness.

“We needed to get a lot of stuff off our chest and be transparent,” Zach LaVine said on Sunday, according to Johnson. “I don’t think the players’ toughness should ever be questioned. I think that’s on us. I think that is a little bit of what we discussed in our meeting.”

For his part, Boylen has shown no regrets about the tactics he has taken, and believes they’re sending the right message to his players.

“They’re learning how I operate,” Boylen said, per Mayberry. “They’re learning what I value. And if I think a group out there isn’t doing what they need to be doing as a collective unit, I’m going to sub. Maybe I’ll sub three. Maybe I’ll sub five. What they have to understand is there are obligations and options. And we’re cleaning up what goes on. You’re obligated to do the things I ask them to do. And they’re obligated to play the right way. And when they’re not, my job is to try to fix that.”

When they announced last week that he would replace Hoiberg, the Bulls didn’t give Boylen the interim tag, suggesting they expect him to finish out the season and perhaps even remain in the head coaching role in 2019/20 and beyond. Despite a rocky start, there’s no indication the franchise won’t stick to that plan, so it’s in the Bulls’ best interests to make sure that the players and their coach are on the same page. After Sunday’s meetings, both sides seemed a little more comfortable, at least for now.

“Nobody is going to make more mistakes than I do,” Boylen said, per Johnson. “I have a lot of responsibility and make a lot of decisions. I’m not going to get them all right. But this is not a hobby for me. We’re going to keep working and grinding and communicating and hugging and crying and laughing and moving forward.”

Bulls Notes: Hoiberg, Boylen, Markkanen, Parker

The Bulls‘ decision to fire Fred Hoiberg wasn’t based on his win-loss record as the team’s head coach, executive VP of basketball operations John Paxson said today to reporters, including K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune (Twitter link). Instead, Paxson explained, it was more about Hoiberg’s struggles to get his identity across to his team (Twitter link via Johnson).

“We were in a similar situation last year at this time. Poor record,” Paxson said (Twitter link via Johnson). “But the entire energy about this group was different then. What we’re lacking is an energy and spirit. It’s not as simple as saying we would’ve got that with healthy players.”

Associate head coach Jim Boylen will take over for Hoiberg, and he won’t just get the interim title. Paxson said today that the organization believes Boylen will be able to “affect change,” adding that the longtime assistant will be given the opportunity to remain in the role next season and possibly beyond (Twitter links via Johnson). For his part, Boylen told reporters that he believes he’s “a more passionate in-game coach” than Hoiberg (Twitter link via Johnson).

Here’s more on the Bulls:

  • The eventual firing of Hoiberg was inevitable after his relationship with Jimmy Butler deteriorated, in the view of Mark Strotman of NBC Sports Chicago. Meanwhile, Sean Deveney of The Sporting News and ESPN’s Zach Lowe both make the case that the Bulls’ management group didn’t put Hoiberg in a position to succeed.
  • Lowe also observes that Hoiberg is not a “forceful personality,” which may have contributed to his inability to succeed in Chicago: “I have come to believe after talking to lots of sources over lots of years now,” Lowe writes, “that (Hoiberg’s) tepid nature played some role in his inability to imprint any foundational belief upon any of his four Chicago teams.”
  • In a separate article for The Sporting News, Deveney identifies eight potential candidates to become the Bulls’ next long-term head coach, starting with Boylen.
  • Boylen’s first move as the Bulls’ head coach will be to insert Lauri Markkanen into the starting lineup, shifting Jabari Parker back to the bench, per The Chicago Sun-Times (Twitter link).
  • The rest of the Bulls’ assistants will be retained, and the team will also add G League coach Dean Cooper to its coaching staff, according to Boylen (Twitter link via Johnson).
  • As we detailed in an earlier story, Paxson said today that GM Gar Forman is “absolutely safe” in his current role.

Central Notes: Lopez, Pistons, Cavaliers

As the Bucks have gotten off to a strong start, the improved floor-spacing around Giannis Antetokounmpo has been a key in taking the team to the next level. Of course, one of the key cogs in the Bucks’ rotation has been Brook Lopez, who is attempting nearly seven 3-pointers per game from the center position.

As Marc Stein writes for The New York Times, Lopez’s transformation into an elite shooter at center has made the Bucks offense even more dynamic and unstoppable. As Stein points out, once the Lakers decided not to bring Lopez back in the offseason, the Bucks pounced and added Lopez as a key offseason addition for new head coach Mike Budenholzer as he worked to modernize the team’s offense.

So far, the results speak for themselves. Antetokounmpo is averaging 18.9 points per game in the paint as a result of the increased floor-spacing around him, and the Bucks look to be a regular season power with their new offensive system.

There’s more from the Central division:

Central Notes: Markkanen, Burks, Pachulia, Bulls

Bulls forward Lauri Markkanen made his season debut on Saturday against the Rockets, seeing 25 minutes of action off the bench for the first time since suffering an elbow sprain in September.

Markkanen, 21, is a key cog in the Bulls’ young core, and the team was 5-18 without him this season. He struggled shooting the ball on Saturday and finished 4-14 from the field, a clear sign of rust from the extended time on the sidelines.

“I felt good,” Markkanen said after the game, according to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune. “I had no problems with my elbow, so that’s a positive. Missed some easy shots, but I think I played decent defense. I just gotta get my legs back.”

Aside from his shooting, Markkanen grabbed four rebounds, recorded a steal, one block and two fouls against the Rockets. It’s unclear how long he’ll come off the bench, with the likes of Jabari Parker and Wendell Carter Jr. starting ahead of him in the frontcourt.

“We will be careful with his minutes,” coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We’ll have constant communication while he’s on the floor to see if he needs a break to get his wind. But he’s done a great job of preparing himself for this moment with all the work he has done.

“Everybody is excited to have him back. He has a great skill set. He can do a lot on the floor. He demands a lot of attention to hopefully open up some driving lanes for some of our playmakers. He’ll have the ball in his hands some as well in facilitating.”

There’s more from the Central division today:

  • New Cavaliers guard Alec Burks played his first game with the team on Friday, scoring 15 points in 26 minutes off the bench. He followed this performance with a 13-point game on Saturday against the Raptors, proving his worth since being part of a Jazz-Cavs trade from last week. “Opportunity is everything in this league,” Burks said, according to Chris Fedor of “I feel like I have a great one here. Just trying to take advantage of it and help my new team win.”
  • Zaza Pachulia has provided a settling effect on the Pistons behind Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond this season, Ansar Khan of Mass Live writes. Pachulia, a former NBA champion, has averaged 4.1 points and 4.4 rebounds in 12.7 minutes per game.
  • Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times believes the Bulls should follow the Cavaliers’ lead and explore trading players, explaining his thoughts in a new piece. Players such as Justin Holiday, Jabari Parker and Robin Lopez could register interest on the trade market.

Lauri Markkanen To Make Season Debut Tonight

After it was originally reported earlier this week that Bulls’ forward Lauri Markkanen was planning to return on December 4th from the right elbow injury that has sidelined him all season, an official release from the team is now listing the 21-year-old Finn as probable for tonight’s game against the Rockets.

Per K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, Markkanen said last night: “I feel good. I’ve got a couple practices in and no pain, so that’s a good sign. There’s been nothing the next day after practice. I’ve been playing normally. So that’s good.”

Markkanen was originally thought to be out for 6-to-8 weeks after suffering a high grade lateral elbow sprain during the last week of September, but a report from earlier this month confirmed that recovery was taking longer than usual, with the Bulls relaying that the prized big man would not return until he felt 100%.

As a tweet from the Chicago Sun-Times notes, a Markkanen debut tonight makes sense considering Chicago’s upcoming schedule. The Bulls have two days off after tonight before their next game, and then – after Tuesday in Indianapolis – two more off days for practice.

During an outstanding rookie campaign, Markkanen averaged 15.2 PPG and 7.5 RPG in 29.7 MPG while appearing in 68 contests. He was the seventh overall pick in the 2017 draft.

Central Rumors: Griffin, McDermott, Markkanen, Oladipo

When Blake Griffin was traded by the Clippers to the Pistons in late January, many people wondered how motivated and happy he would be leaving sunny L.A. for chilly Detroit. In fact, Griffin is glad he was dealt just months after signing a long-term max contract, as Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times details. Griffin is averaging 24.8 PPG, 9.9 RPG and 5.1 APG for the Pistons this season and has endeared himself to his teammates and people around the organization, Woike adds. “Yeah, I’m glad it happened,” Griffin told Woike. “I’m not saying I don’t miss certain people. There were some awesome fans that I got to know and I felt like I was very close with them. And there are some people you miss over there, but it was just time for a fresh start.”

We have more from around the Central Division:

  • Pacers coach Nate McMillan vows to make better use of sharpshooter Doug McDermott, Mark Monteith of the team’s website reports. McDermott was signed to a three-year, $22MM contract as a stretch four over the summer. He is in the rotation but has averaged just 4.6 PPG this month while making 32.1% of his long-range attempts. He’s scored six points or less 13 times this season. “In the flow of the game you have to know who (the shooters) are,” McMillan said. “It’s like playing with a Reggie Miller. The bigs should look to get him open, it doesn’t have to be a set play. … Doug’s going to be OK. We’re going to get him better opportunities.”
  • Lauri Markkanen is close to returning from the right elbow injury that has sidelined him all season, Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg told K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune and other media members. Markkanen has been medically cleared and will go through a full practice on Tuesday after participating in Monday’s non-contact morning shootaround. If he doesn’t have any setbacks, the second-year power forward will most likely return on December 4th.
  • The Pacers feel they are better equipped to handle situations when star Victor Oladipo can’t play, according to J. Michael of the Indianapolis Star. The team went winless in seven games without him last season. Oladipo missed his fourth consecutive game on Monday due to a right knee injury. He suffered the injury in the opening minutes against Atlanta on November 17th and the Pacers managed to win that game. They were 1-2 without him last week. “For us, it really doesn’t make a difference who’s out on the floor. We want to play the game the same way,” McMillan said. “Play the game with a lot of energy. Play the game together. We want that ball movement regardless of who is in the lineup.”

Bulls Notes: LaVine, Markkanen, Hoiberg, Tanking

Zach LaVine isn’t surprised by the success he’s having this season, and neither is his former coach in Minnesota, writes Kurt Youngblood of The Star Tribune. A key piece of the deal that brought Jimmy Butler to the Timberwolves in the summer of 2017, LaVine is having a breakthrough season after getting a $78MM payday in July when the Bulls matched a four-year offer sheet from the Kings. He has responded by averaging 25.5 points per game, ninth best in the league.

“You work hard, you expect good things,” LaVine said.

LaVine appeared headed for stardom with the Wolves before being sidelined with a torn ACL in February of 2017. Minnesota opted to part with him to bring in Butler, but coach Tom Thibodeau still keeps an eye on LaVine’s progress.

“I think last year you saw glimpses of what he could do,” Thibodeau said. “I think now that he’s healthy, he’s gone to a different level. He loves the game. Those types of guys always get better.’’

There’s more this morning out of Chicago:

  • Three key players are making progress in returning from injuries, relays Dan Santaromita of NBC Sports Chicago. Lauri Markkanen is ready for “controlled contact” at practice as he rehabs a right elbow injury. Although there’s no timetable for him to return, Bulls coaches were encouraged by the way he shot at Friday’s practice. Kris Dunn and Bobby Portis, who are both sidelined with sprained MCLs, were both able to work out Friday. “That’s the most that Kris Dunn and Bobby have done really since the injury, so really just continue to ramp up their activities,” coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Those guys are not ready for any type of contact yet.”
  • Even though the Bulls appear headed for the lottery again after a 5-15 start, Hoiberg continues to stress the importance of trying to win every game, according to Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times. Hoiberg remains optimistic that getting back to full strength will spark a surge similar to what the team did last December when Nikola Mirotic returned. “If you do go out there and get a couple wins … they lift everyone’s spirits because our guys are going out there and working hard in practices, and to be able to get over the hump is big for these guys and their development,’’ Hoiberg said. “For young players to see that when they continue to work, good things can happen.”
  • In a column, Cowley takes the opposite approach, noting that the organization needs to commit to tanking to have a shot at drafting a star such as Duke freshman Zion Williamson.