After All-Star Weekend, Wendell Carter Jr. hopes for a quick return to the Bulls

Wendell Carter Jr. watches the Rising Stars Game practice at Wintrust Arena on February 14th.

CHICAGO – It’s reflective of the Bulls’ season that the only player selected to a game during the All-Star Weekend in their hometown is sitting on the sidelines with an injury.

But that’s how it is on Friday as Wendell Carter Jr. will watch his fellow young NBA stars take the floor without him at the United Center in the Rising Stars Game. It’s not something sudden, since Carter’s ankle injury occurred weeks before he was selected to Team USA, so it did soften the blow for the center.

“Get to represent Chicago,” said Carter of still being apart of the festivities even though he’s not in the game. “I’m definitely excited, excited for tonight.”

Perhaps some of the optimism he feels is the hope that he’ll soon be able to return to the Bulls’ lineup after missing the last month-and-a-half with a severely sprained ankle suffered January 6th in a loss to the Mavericks. During his media availability at Wintrust Arena on Friday morning during the Rising Stars practice, Carter targeted the first game after the All-Star Break for his return to the Bulls’ lineup.

That would be next Thursday against the Hornets at home, and while nothing is official, Carter is confident he can make it happen.

“I’m definitely feeling a lot better,” said Carter. “I’m just continuously doing rehab with therapy on the ankle everyday. I’m just trying to get it feeling right. I want to be back the next game, that’s what I’m shooting for right now.”

Should Carter hold true to that, it would be a much-needed return of a starter for the Bulls after they’ve been decimated by injuries over the last month. The center joins Otto Porter Jr., Kris Dunn, and Lauri Markkanen as regulars watching the games from the bench. It’s a big reason why the team lost six-straight games going into their All-Star Break as their self-proclaimed goal of playoffs continues to dwindle away.

Carter could help the effort to resuscitate those hopes, but many would prefer that he continue to develop for a future some hope the first round pick from the 2018 NBA Draft will be bright. In 37 games this year, Carter had 11.7 points with 9.9 rebounds per game, and the Bulls have missed his contributions over the last five weeks.

Before the trade deadline, John Paxson said the hope was to get the center along with a majority of the other injured Bulls back by the end of the month. If that happens, Carter holds hope the team can show their potential in the final month-and-a-half.

“Everybody kinda sees that were in the building stage. I feel like we’re at a really good place right now, but we haven’t been able to be healthy for a long string of game,” said Carter. “Everybody kinda sees the potential in us and know that when we’re fully healthy and fully active, we’re pretty hard to beat.”

Whether that ends up being the case or not is to be seen, but at least one player on the teams getting a little closer to returning instead of going.

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