Bulls Shake Up Starting Small Forward Spot Ahead of Rockets Preseason Opener

Getty Billy Donovan

The Chicago Bulls have released the team’s probable starters in their preseason opener against the Houston Rockets on Friday.

The most surprising twist in the first lineup coach Billy Donovan has set since taking over the team back in September: a seemingly healthy Otto Porter Jr. will not be starting.

Instead, 14th year veteran small forward Thaddeus Young will start in Porter’s stead. Porter has shown to be a proven scorer from the wing but has struggled to stay healthy, playing in 29 games over the past two seasons. He was recently ranked No. 98 on ESPN’s top 100 NBA players rankings ahead of the 2020-21 season.

Second-year guard Coby White will start at the point as expected, along with Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. at center.

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Donovan Taking it Slow With Porter

Porter not starting doesn’t come as a major shock as Donovan has spoken openly about throttling Porter’s minutes early this season, saying that Porter’s health will be the “most important” aspect to the Bulls management this season.

“For Otto, with the amount of time he’s missed, certainly him being healthy is the most important thing to our team. But he’s been back here, he’s been working, which has been great to see. I’ve always felt like before, even his time in Washington, he’s smart. He’s got a really good feel of how to play, he can make a shot. He’s a good passer,” Donovan said during individual training camp practices. “He’s just been a guy who has not been available very much since he’s been here. We’ll have to see how he responds once we really get through this individual coach/player, one coach, one basket, one ball situation and start to move to more five-on-five.”

When healthy, Porter’s shown strong two-way player qualities as an ideal fit for the new management. He’s averaged 13.5 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.4 steals per game and shot 40 percent from beyond the arc in the past two seasons.

Porter’s Performance Will be Key For Bulls’ Future

Otto Porter

GettyOtto Porter Jr. is coming back from injury and will likely see limited minutes to begin the season, per coach Billy Donovan.

Porter, commanding a $28.4 million cap hit this season, is the Bulls’ highest-paid player after the franchise traded for him and his max contract from the Washington Wizards back in February 2019.

In the final year of his deal, Porter is entering a prove-it year. The Bulls, under new vice president of operations Arturas Karnisovas and a first-year coach in Donovan, are looking to transform the franchise that has seen the playoffs only once in the past five seasons and hasn’t won 30 games in each of the past three seasons.

The cap space created with Porter’s departure could be valuable in next offseason’s free agency. NBC Sports’ K.C. Johnson reported that it doesn’t seem like the Bulls are interested in keeping Porter, especially with the opportunity to free up cap space for a prized 2021 free agency pool looming next year for the franchise’s new ownership.

“Given [Porter’s] injury history and that Chandler Hutchison remains on the roster — albeit rehabilitating again following shoulder surgery — I have to believe there are other long-term plans for the wing spot outside of Porter,” Johnson wrote.

Depending on his performance, Porter could still re-sign with the Bulls next offseason if the team fetches a more affordable contract for the 27-year-old forward.

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