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The Journal Gazette

Thursday, October 11, 2018 1:00 am

Bulls hope growth of core leads to success

ANDREW SELIGMAN | Associated Press

CHICAGO – The Chicago Bulls missed the playoffs for the second time in three years last season and finished with their worst record in a decade-and-a-half.

Even so, management believes the team is setting itself up to climb the Eastern Conference standings.

“You're not going to hear (general manager) Gar (Forman) or I talk about wins or anything like that,” executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said. “But the expectations are to see this team come together.”

If Paxson's message sounds similar to the one he delivered after last season, well, not much has changed since then.

Though the Bulls hardly appear to be championship contenders, they believe they have the potential to make a jump after going 27-55, their worst finish since 2003-04. They are banking largely on improvement from within to start climbing in the Eastern Conference, starting with the season opener at Philadelphia on Oct. 18.

That means Lauri Markkanen building on an impressive rookie season and Zach LaVine showing he really is a franchise cornerstone. It wouldn't hurt, either, if Jabari Parker stayed healthy after signing with his hometown team in the offseason.

Markkanen mends

The Bulls expect Markkanen to miss the first few weeks because of a left elbow sprain. The 7-foot forward from Finland was injured at practice late last month, a blow for a rebuilding team. But the Bulls are expecting bigger things after he finished fourth among rookies at 15.2 points per game and second in rebounding (7.5) because of his work ethic and dedication in the weight room.

“On the defensive end is where it will help him most, being able to play more positions comfortably,” said coach Fred Hoiberg, who comes into his fourth season with a 110-136 record.

Back home

Parker gets a chance to get his promising career back on track with his hometown team. The son of a former NBA player, Parker averaged 15.3 points and 5.5 rebounds in four seasons with Milwaukee. He also tore the ACL in his left knee twice. Parker might be a bit of an odd fit since he figures to play more at small forward than power forward once Markkanen returns. But it's a low-risk deal with the Bulls holding an option on that second year. Parker starred at Chicago's Simeon Career Academy – the same school where former MVP Derrick Rose played.