7:00 p.m.; NBC Sports Chicago
Denzel Valentine is likely out for the season as he’s set to undergo ankle surgery. Good news elsewhere though. Lauri Markkanen is playing 2-on-2 in practice with controlled contact. The news out of Bulls camp today is that the Bulls have cleared him for full practice and his return is imminent. Kris Dunn is doing on-court work as well and Bobby Portis worked out at a recent team practice.
The Bulls expect Chandler Hutchison to play tonight after the rookie missed the last three games with back spasms.
Meanwhile in San Antonio, the Spurs have ruled out our old friend Pau Gasol for this game because of a sore left foot. Young point guard Dejounte Murray will miss the entire season with an ACL tear. His expected backup Lonnie Walker is also still out with a knee injury.
Who are the Spurs?
At this point nobody really knows because the current iteration of the roster is so dramatically different than what the roster looked like for all of those years.
No Manu. No Tim Duncan. No Parke,r who is playing out his age 36 season with the Charlotte Hornets.
Gregg Popovich is still around. But his best player this season is unfamiliar. DeMar DeRozan, the prize of the trade that sent perennial All-Star Kawhi Leonard up north to Toronto, leads the team with 24.9 points per game. LaMarcus Aldridge’s steady presence returns for his fourth season wearing black and white. He’s averaging a double-double this season.
The longest tenured Spur right now is Australian backup point guard Patty Mills. The second longest is Aldridge. Weird times in San Antonio.
All the roster turnover coupled with injuries has equated to uncharted territory in terms of what the record looks like for this perennial Western Conference powerhouse. The Spurs sit at 9-10; No. 12 in the Western Conference. Should they fail to qualify for the playoffs this season, it’d be the first time since the 1996-1997 season that that has happened.
Perhaps even stranger than the roster turnover and the fact that the Spurs aren’t that good this season, is the drama that has permeated through the cracks of this normally no nonsense franchise. Last season, the Leonard injury saga weighed the franchise down. But just because Leonard wears a different uniform now, doesn’t mean he’s off the Spurs minds.
“Kawhi was a great player, but he wasn’t a leader or anything,” Popovich told reporters of Leonard, the 2014 NBA Finals MVP and two-time Defensive Player of the Year. “Manu and Patty were the leaders. Kawhi’s talent will always be missed, but that leadership wasn’t his deal at that time. That may come as he progresses, but Manu and Patty filled that role last year, and LaMarcus [Aldridge] came a long way in that regard also.”
Things are weird in Spurs world. Normally, you’d say that this iteration of the Chicago Bulls has no chance against San Antonio. But things have changed, and I’m tempted to say that they do have a chance tonight.