Carter's return could smooth out Bulls' rotation issues
Depth seemed to be a strength for the Bulls back when their second unit was winning the bench battle most every night.
But now that they're down a few starters, it's been a struggle.
The Bulls have gone 4-7 since center Wendell Carter Jr. went out with a right quad contusion, 2-2 without both Carter and Lauri Markkanen, who suffered a shoulder injury on Feb. 5 in Orlando.
There is progress to report. Coach Billy Donovan said Carter participated in all of Sunday's practice. So it's possible he'll return to the lineup on Monday at Indiana, though it's likely no decision will be made until just before tipoff.
Donovan said Otto Porter (back) is still rehabbing and Markkanen remains on the original 2-4 week timetable, so neither player is likely to see action on the upcoming three-game road trip that includes stops in Charlotte and Philadelphia. Chandler Hutchison will travel with the team, but won't play due to personal reasons.
Second-year center Daniel Gafford has had an adventure while starting in Carter's place. He had two of his better performances at the start of last week against Washington and New Orleans, with a combined 19 points. Then in Friday's loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, he played just eight minutes. There have been nights when Gafford held his own as a starter and others when he's gotten a quick hook.
"He has to slow down a little bit," Donovan said of Gafford. "The ball comes to him in the middle of the floor and there's generally people around him and things are happening quickly. He just has to read the floor."
On Friday, Donovan turned to Luke Kornet, who had barely played this season. If Carter returns, Gafford can move to a more comfortable role coming off the bench. Or the Bulls could stick with Kornet, who can spread the floor a little bit as a 3-point threat.
The other issue is finding a Markkanen replacement. The Bulls used Porter early in the season when Markkanen was out due to contact tracing. Now with Porter out, Donovan started Denzel Valentine, then quickly shifted to Garrett Temple.
Against New Orleans on Wednesday, Donovan meant to start Temple, but forgot to change the official lineup, so Valentine was surprised when hearing his name during pregame introductions. Donovan sent Temple in a couple minutes after tip.
"I looked up and I was like 'What's going on?'" Valentine said Sunday. "I looked at Billy and he was like, 'Nah just go ahead, I kind of messed that up.' So it was funny, but yeah it was different."
Valentine has started just three games this season, so the sample size is small, but he can make a case for staying in the lineup. He's averaged 15.7 points and shot 42.3 percent from 3-point range in the three games he started. He's also the only Bulls player with a positive plus-minus as a starter.
Valentine was asked if either role suits him better. He could be a guy to bring instant offense from the bench, since he can be a streaky 3-point shooter.
"As long as I'm just out there getting minutes and playing, I think I'll figure it out," Valentine said. "I don't think I need to define myself right now. It's still early in my career, still kind of figuring it out and getting minutes. I don't want to put myself in a box quite yet."
Valentine has been working on his side job, officially releasing an EP of his music on Valentine's Day. The album is titled, "517: Made me," a reference to the area code of his hometown, Lansing, Mich.
"I've been working on it for like a year now since quarantine," he said. "The whole artist process is different, it's time consuming and I definitely got a respect level for artists that put out music.
"It's kind of just letting the fans get to know me a little bit better, telling my story and kind of how I grew up and how my lifestyle is and everything like that. So I'm really excited to get feedback from everybody."