After turning heads in Eurobasket this summer in his native Finland, rookie Lauri Markkanen is silencing doubters with his play for the Bulls this season (Tuomas Vitikainen/Wikimedia Commons).

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The Chicago Bulls ended the year last season by surprisingly stealing two games in Boston in their first-round playoff series against the Celtics and then subsequently losing the next four games. Since then, they let go of veterans Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo, traded away franchise superstar Jimmy Butler, and brought back a new young core of Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and rookie Lauri Markkanen. In our first episode of 2018, we’ve brought on Jordan Maly, host of the Locked on Bulls podcast, to help decipher this enigmatic Chicago team. He takes us through a mid-season assessment of that Jimmy Butler trade, the slew of developing young talent the Bulls have fostered and the awkwardness of covering the team after the fight between Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis. Charge forward into the show with these excerpts:

4:30 – 7:44: “When Butler was dealt, the immediate overwhelming reaction was that the Bulls got screwed, that the Bulls didn’t get enough back for him, that the Timberwolves basically snaked Jimmy Butler and that No. 16 pick in the draft… For a lot of Bulls fans, we didn’t have trust in the front office, didn’t have trust in what they were saying or what they were trying to build. But now, slowly, over this season, Lauri Markkanen has turned into a viable piece and somebody that looks like one of the best rookies out of this class… Kris Dunn, I think, has been the most phenomenal part of this three-piece trade. He’s gotten his confidence back from when he played at Providence… and is turning into something that could be a budding superstar. And then you add the most important piece that everybody thought would be the No. 1 piece of this deal in Zach LaVine… I think he can be a definite impact player, and he can be a definite impact person for a Chicago Bulls team that’s looking for their sort of superstar.”

11:35 – 12:58: “When [Lauri Markkanen’s] asked about his player comps, about players that he watched to develop his game, he always says he ‘doesn’t want to be the next Dirk. There will never be the next Dirk, because Dirk is far and above anybody else out there.’ He said he wants to create his own path. He wants to be his own player. He wants to make his mark as Lauri Markkanen… Everybody said that Lauri Markannen’s not going to be able to play defense, especially down low, and he’s proven people wrong so far this season. The way he moves his feet, which are so quick for a big man of his size and his length, and his ability to not give up against guys… His confidence is oozing right now.”

16:23 – 19:25: “The team as a whole had such a good offseason and were having such a good training camp. It’s funny because John Paxson had even said in his press conference at media day that Fred Hoiberg had built up an amazing culture… Then you get 48 hours before tipoff of opening night and this situation [the fight between Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis] arises… I think the most bizarre part of this whole story was the fact that they don’t speak off the court to each other at all, yet they come back and play as the best tandem… the Bulls have right now. When those two are on the floor, the Bulls are so much better, infinitely better.”

26:55 – 29:40: “For me especially, I think Markkanen, Dunn and LaVine are your obvious core… But I think slowly as the season has progressed, I’ve even thrown in the mix guys like Portis… I think he can be a legitimate rotation player. I think the front office is very high on not only Portis, but also [Denzel] Valentine. And to throw a third guy in there, David Nwaba… I think the Bulls should do whatever they need to do to keep him on board… I would say your core right now—LaVine, Markannen, Dunn— is a good place to start. It’s definitely a better place to start than some of these other teams that are trying to tank.”

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Music: “Who Likes to Party” by Kevin MacLeod