Otto Porter Jr. remains out of Bulls practice, return timeline uncertain

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Rob Schaefer
·3 min read
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Porter remains out of practice, return timeline uncertain originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

It had all the makings of a bounceback season for Otto Porter Jr.

After missing 51 of 65 games in 2019-20, and entering a contract year, preseason talk around the Bulls' maligned forward centered on the unrivaled importance of his defense and versatility. Even while load managing the second night of back-to-backs, he provided veteran presence and 40 percent 3-point shooting as both a starter and reserve through his first 16 appearances.

But now, it's lower back spasms that have bounced him from the Bulls' lineup for the team's past 10 games, including Saturday's matchup with the Sacramento Kings. Asked to update Porter's status before that contest tipped off, head coach Billy Donovan reported progress, but mostly continued uncertainty.

"He's been doing some shooting now. He's made some progress, he's feeling better," Donovan told reporters over Zoom from the United Center. But: "He's done nothing in practice."

Concerning for Donovan: The longer Porter is removed from team activities, the more his eventual timetable to round into playing shape compounds; with an injury of the lower back variety, staying conditioned is a challenge.

"Every day that goes by is a day where he loses more conditioning," Donovan said. "I felt like with an early training camp and an early start to the season and a limited amount of time, I felt like he did a pretty good job in training camp of getting himself in pretty good shape and pretty good condition. But I think for him because he's been dealing with his lower back, he's been really limited in what he can do physically.

"My concern is going to be once he starts feeling better to get back out there playing and doing those things, how much time will it take him to get back, his conditioning and his timing and all those kind of things."

The injury stems from Porter tweaking his back in the first quarter of a Jan. 8 game against the Lakers in Los Angeles, after which he was inactive Jan. 10 against the Clippers. He appeared in five of the Bulls' next seven games -- skipping the back end of back-to-backs for maintenance -- before feeling his back stiffen Jan. 30 against the Portland Trail Blazers. After playing 18 minutes against the New York Knicks two nights later, he hasn't seen the floor since.

Donovan went on to compliment Porter's every-day diligence to working his way back and keeping as fit as possible, but he remains without a timeline to return. Even once he does, it sounds like his conditioning will lengthen his ramp-up to returning to the court.

"The biggest part is just to try to get him where he's feeling right and feeling good that he can go out there," Donovan said. "But there's only so much he can do right now physically, which I think puts him in a situation -- and us in a situation -- where it could take a little bit of time to get him back to where he was physically before he's had to deal with this."

As for Lauri Markkanen, who was assigned a two-to-four week recovery timetable on Feb. 8 for a shoulder sprain suffered in a Feb. 5 game at the Orlando Magic? No new developments, of the positive or setback variety.

"Still dealing with soreness there," Donovan said. "He can do conditioning, because obviously it’s his shoulder. He can do running, and he’s fine with that. Still, nothing on the court with us as a team, not that we’ve had a lot of practice time, but the timetable has not changed."

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