The Chicago Bulls will begin preseason without the two main pieces in their rebuilding project.
Rookie Lauri Markkanen will sit out the first two preseason games to rest a sore back, coach Fred Hoiberg confirmed Monday.
The Bulls play their preseason opener on Tuesday in New Orleans, then visit Dallas on Wednesday.
Zach LaVine, the key piece in June's trade with Minnesota, is still recovering from a torn ACL and most likely won't see game action until at least Dec. 1.
"Lauri is feeling a lot better. He'll do some stuff today on the floor, but he won't do any contact drills," Hoiberg said before Monday's practice at the Advocate Center.
"We feel right now it's best to take a cautious approach and leave him out for these first two games. Then we'll re-evaluate him on Thursday to see if he'll be ready for Friday's game."
The Bulls play their first home preseason game Friday at the United Center against Milwaukee. Markkanen left practice last Friday due to back spasms and has not yet returned to full contact drills.
"I'm not concerned about it," Hoiberg said. "He's had a grueling summer. The important thing is he's continuing to learn the system offensively and defensively, but also make sure he gets rest knowing this is a marathon and not a sprint."
Markkanen participated in the Las Vegas summer league in July, then played well for Finland in the European championships last month. He returned to Chicago about a week before training camp began.
Hoiberg said forward Quincy Pondexter (hamstring strain) has also been ruled out of the first two exhibition games. He said both injured players will travel with the team.
Reunion with Rondo:
The preseason opener offers a chance for the Bulls to reconnect with former teammate Rajon Rondo, who signed with the Pelicans after the Bulls declined his contract option for this season.
"It's going to be great to see him," Nikola Mirotic said Monday. "He was more than a teammate, he was a great friend.
"Yeah, I was a little bit disappointed, to be honest, when I heard he was leaving the Bulls, but at the end of the day it's all about the business. The Bulls are going a different direction."
Rondo was popular with most of his teammates last season, particularly the younger players. Coach Fred Hoiberg mentioned a few times he thinks Rondo has a bright future in coaching.
"I had a good text exchange with him right before training camp started," Hoiberg said. "I wished him all the best and thanked him for everything he did for us not only on the court but what he did in the leadership role for our younger players."
Smaller lineups ahead:
The Bulls may try to play with smaller lineups this season since they have three power forwards with long-range shooting potential in Nikola Mirotic, Bobby Portis and rookie Lauri Markkanen.
More NBA teams are expected to use small lineups. Cleveland, for example, is planning to start Kevin Love at center.
"I like the way the league is going," Mirotic said. "I might play 5, I don't know. We'll see. I like the way they're playing right now because last year we played some together, Bobby and me. I think hits year at some point maybe we'll play together Lauri and me.
"So it's a new game right now. Faster, everybody can shoot a three, spread the floor. For me, it's going to be great. How I play, hopefully I should be more involved this year."
Mirotic added some muscle over the summer with the idea of playing close to the basket more often. He admitted it took some getting used to when practice began.
"I feel stronger. It was a little bit hard for me the first two days of training camp. It was a little but more about the conditioning. Moving with 260 pounds was a little bit harder.
"But now I feel good. I feel in good shape. I feel strong."