Bulls’ Markkanen has put on 14 pounds this summer

CHICAGO — Bulls second-year forward Lauri Markkanen looks noticeably bigger and more tone this summer. That’s because the stretch forward has put on about 14 pounds in the offseason and now has muscles in his biceps he can show-off.

During his rookie season, Markkanen exceeded expectations and produced at a high level. In 68 games, Markkanen averaged 15.2 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.2 assists, shooting 43.4 percent from the field and 36.2 percent from three. He made the All-Rookie first-team and every Bulls fan is excited to see him play in year two of the rebuild.

The Bulls acquired the draft rights to Markkanen in the Jimmy Butler trade from the Minnesota Timberwolves, along with Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine. It was once thought LaVine was the biggest piece the Bulls received in the Butler deal, but now the talk around Chicago is that Markkanen, and not LaVine, is the Bulls’ franchise cornerstone.

“Everybody has been saying I’m bigger, but I don’t know about all that,” Markkanen told K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune. “I just know I feel good. I’ve put on about 14 pounds. In general, I feel stronger. Hopefully, I can keep this weight up and play with it because I feel it will help my game.”

Now that LeBron James is out of the Eastern Conference, many teams in the East believe this is the time to take risks and make a run, and it appears that’s what the Bulls are doing.

The Bulls signed Chicago native Jabari Parker to a two-year, $40 million deal. Parker has suffered two ACL tears, which is why the second year of Parker’s deal is a team-option. Essentially, Parker is getting a one-year tryout with his hometown Bulls and the hope is that he can stay healthy and be productive for Chicago at the small forward position.

In 31 games in 2017-18 with the Milwaukee Bucks, Parker averaged 12.6 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.9 assists while shooting 48.2 percent from the field and 38.3 percent from three.

The Bulls’ vile 2017-18 season netted them the seventh overall pick in the 2018 NBA draft. They drafted Duke big man Wendell Carter Jr., who had a solid summer league and will be an immediate contributor in his rookie season.

Carter Jr. finished summer league with averages of 14.6 points, 9.4 rebounds and 2.6 blocks, shooting 55.1 percent from the field. He showed great patience and footwork while operating in the post and will add rim protection to the Bulls’ defense.

Markkanen believes the Bulls got much better and can’t wait to play with his new teammates.

“I feel we got better,” Markkanen said. “Wendell, I thought he was supposed to be a top-five pick. I’m glad he fell to us (at No.7). He’s a big guy who can do a lot of different stuff well, so he should help my game and us. I’m looking forward to playing with him. It’s great to have Jabari here obviously. He’s a talented player. He has had some injuries, but it hasn’t taken anything away from him. It’s nice to have him home.”

The Bulls can throw out a starting lineup of Dunn, LaVine, Parker, Markkanen and veteran center Robin Lopez. The top teams in the East this season will be the Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors, Philadelphia 76ers and Indiana Pacers. After that, it’s a wide-open race.

With such a talented, but young team, it will be fun to watch the Bulls play in 2018-19 and see if they can sneak into the playoffs.