After coming off bench, Lauri Markkanen maintains 'I'm a starter in this league' but will do what's best for Bulls

"We're all competitors and you always want to start," Markkanen says.
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(670 The Score) Bulls big man Lauri Markkanen was moved to a bench role in Chicago’s 116-102 loss at Golden State on Monday evening, four days after the team’s flurry of activity ahead of the trade deadline.

Markkanen had a “great” attitude upon learning of his demotion, coach Billy Donovan said, while Markkanen himself struck a balance between self-belief and expressing a team-first attitude in his postgame media session.

“I feel like we're all competitors and you always want to start,” Markkanen said. “I feel like that's how everybody feels. And I know I'm a starter in this league. But like you said, I'm a team guy and I'm gonna play my role. I know Coach has a lot to handle with the new guys coming and so it's gonna be an adjustment. So, but, I know I'm a starter here and I'm gonna control what I can control. And that's pretty much it.”

Veteran power forward Thad Young moved into the starting lineup in place of Markkanen alongside All-Star center Nikola Vucevic, whom the Bulls acquired from the Magic last Thursday. Donovan cited a need for having perimeter shooting in all of his big man pairings as a primary reason for the change. The Bulls also acquired 6-foot-8 defensive menace Daniel Theis from the Celtics last week. Vucevic and Markkanen bring more of an outside component than Young and Theis do.

Donovan didn't officially commit to keeping the same starting lineup moving forward, but he sure sounded like he would.

“We have four really unique and good frontcourt players, certainly at the power forward and center spots,” Donovan said. “I just thought that Lauri is a guy who I think because of his ability to shoot and his skill level can play with any one of those three guys. And I thought from an experience standpoint and physicality standpoint, throwing Thad in there because of the way Vooch can spread the floor, it allows those guys to kind of play off each other. And it’s the same thing with Daniel and Lauri. Daniel is a guy around the basket a little bit more, a lot more playing at the front of the rim. And Lauri has the ability to stretch it.”

Markkanen had come off the bench just once in 194 career games before Monday. He played well off the bench, recording 13 points and six rebounds while shooting 5-of-9 from the field. Vucevic led the Bulls bigs with 26-plus minutes and would’ve played around 30 had the Warriors not blown open the game in the fourth quarter. Young played 23-plus minutes, while Markkanen and Theis logged just more than 22 apiece.

“I was just trying to mix and match, making sure we had one of those bigs with some shooting on the floor and the other one maybe plays closer to the basket,” Donovan said. “And obviously Vooch can do both. But with Thad, Thad inside posting, Vooch can play behind the 3-point line. And same thing with Lauri and Daniel. Just trying to get the combinations working a little better.”

Markkanen’s future with the Bulls (19-26) is murky. He and the organization didn’t come to a long-term extension agreement before the deadline in December, and he has landed in plenty of trade speculation. Markkanen emphasized he understood Donovan’s decision.

“He had his reasons,” Markkanen said. “And like I said, I haven't questioned him at all the whole year. I trust Billy. Like I said in the previous (answer), I know I can start and that's how I've been playing. But I mean I'm really not gonna do anything that's gonna harm the team. I think we are all tired of losing, and we're just trying to get better at that. I mean, it hasn't been working for us too well, so we gotta change something. But like I said, disappointing personally but it is part of it and just I'm gonna do whatever I can do to help the team and control what I can control.”

LaVine may rest
Hobbled and uncharacteristically inefficient, Bulls star guard Zach LaVine acknowledged after the loss that he needs to seriously consider taking some time off to rest his sprained right ankle.

“It’s a decision I’m going to have to make coming up, because obviously you guys can tell, I’m not myself,” LaVine said after scoring 12 points on 4-of-16 shooting. “I’m just trying to go out there and obviously tough it out. But I rolled it a little bit again today, so I’ll figure it out later.”

LaVine landed on the injury report ahead of Chicago’s loss at San Antonio on Saturday, when he scored 18 points on 6-of-15 shooting. This marks the first time all season that LaVine has been held to fewer than 20 points in back-to-back games.

Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for 670TheScore.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.