Bulls mailbag: Which free agents fit? Lauri Markkanen extension talks?


The Bulls remain on the outside looking in for the NBA’s 22-team restart next month. But the questions never end.

Do you get the sense that Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley are taking a slow approach to the offseason to avoid rushing into decisions like previous regimes? Is there a master plan at work to which we're simply not privy? — @arturasfanclub, via Twitter

As head of his fan club, I’m surprised you need to ask me for my thoughts. But I digress.

Yes, they are taking a slow approach, which Karnisovas has publicly stated twice now. It’s an unprecedented offseason. The Bulls will not play a regular-season game for over eight months. If Otto Porter Jr. exercises his player option, as expected, the Bulls mostly will be working the margins to improve the roster for the 2020-21 season.

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Obviously, the regime could try to swing a trade. But given what Karnisovas has said publicly and his leaguewide reputation as an observer who likes to form substantive relationships to demand accountability, it certainly sounds like he and Eversley plan to try to put the young talent on this roster in a better position to succeed this season before making any potential substantial changes. Both executives have stated that the Bulls underperformed last season and that they like the young core of talent. So that appears to be the master plan for now — see how the young players perform next season with an increased emphasis internally on player development and perhaps either a new offensive system, new coaches or both.

Why is Jim Boylen still the coach? — Bob H.

Arturas is on Line 1...

“Coaching in the league is very difficult. To make a decision about coaching is really hard. It’s probably the hardest thing for executives. So I look at a lot of aspects. I’ve had numerous conversations. That said, I’d like to be in a building, to be in practices, to be around the coaching staff in meetings. We’re looking forward to getting in the video room together, analyze the games, to watch games together. Talking to players and coaches, obviously everyone is disappointed with the results last year. They definitely underperformed. Watching games, I’m excited to watch because there’s a lot of talent on this team. In order for me to keep players and coaches accountable, I have to have personal relationships with them. That’s what I need to cultivate. That’s my objective this offseason.”

That’s what Karnisovas said during his end-of-season conference call with reporters. It mirrored comments he made upon his hiring but took them a step stronger. Those are the only two times Karnisovas has spoken publicly since his hiring.

Karnisovas and Eversley were in Chicago recently. After an initial flurry of moves that included the dismissal of Gar Forman and the hiring of Pat Connelly and J.J. Polk, they since only have made decisions when contract deadlines presented them. They picked up the option of assistant coach Nate Loenser and declined the option of athletic trainer Jeff Tanaka. (Boylen declined Shawn Respert’s request to increase his role and add a year to his expired contract.)

So, we’re going to have to take the new executives at face value. They have said the plan to take their time to form relationships with the coaching staff and watch them in action. With the Bulls not part of the 22-team restart, that will mean player workouts at the Advocate Center, shared film study, and draft and free agency prep.

If the league and players association come to an agreement on formal offseason activities for the eight teams not in Orlando and a decision hasn’t been reached, those would offer another opportunity to analyze Boylen. As previously reported, Karnisovas has empowered Boylen for now. They have shared meetings about player development plans and draft preparation. Boylen is planning for his normal offseason visits of players not in-market.

Stay tuned.

What do you think about the 22-team plan? — Art C.

I’m not a fan. I understand it from the league’s perspective and have had the rationale explained to me. I just don’t agree. Either take all 30 teams or, if you’re rightfully concerned about numbers on the Disney campus, limit it to the 16 that were in playoff position when the coronavirus paused the season.

Taking 22 teams seems arbitrary and unnecessarily exclusionary. From what I’ve been told, the Bulls and the other seven teams left behind can’t even have a scout inside the so-called bubble. It’s like these teams don’t even exist. That’s not good for any franchise, much less one that is as young and in as much of need for reps as the Bulls.

Is there any validity to the Blake Griffin/DRose trade rumors? Seems unlikely that the new regime will give up a first-round pick, but they are just that — a new regime. The easiest, and subsequently most impactful, way to get fans back in the seats (metaphorically back in the seats of course) is by bringing Pooh home. Is Karnisovas concerned with re-establishing the fan base-front office relationship, or is his main goal to develop these young guys? — Justin R.

His main goal is to win. And to establish a foundation for sustained success. That’s what he has said publicly. And he has been clear about using no excuses or shortcuts.

I hadn’t heard this rumor, so I fired up the ol’ search engine and discovered it’s not a rumor but an idea by a writer in an article for Bleacher Report. I never begrudge anybody producing content, particularly with no live sports. But even the writer, whose full idea was Griffin and Rose for Thad Young and Otto Porter Jr., stated: “This deal would undoubtedly be a gamble on the part of the Chicago Bulls.”

Given that Griffin has a $39 million player option in 2021-22 and a growing, significant injury history, I can’t see this one.

Who are some potential free agents the Bulls are going to target this upcoming offseason? — M. Foles, via Twitter

I don’t know the new regime well enough to speculate. Going by their public words, they’ve talked about valuing versatile, positionless players. The issue will be a lack of cap space and roster spots. So you’re likely looking at adding players via the non-taxpayer mid-level exception.

Assuming Porter opts in and accounting for a first-round pick, the Bulls project to have 13 guaranteed contracts next season. This also doesn’t account for restricted free agents Denzel Valentine, Shaq Harrison and Kris Dunn, with whom the Bulls will have qualifying offer decisions to make.

But let’s say the Bulls add one free agent. You’re probably looking at players like Jae Crowder, Joe Harris, Wes Matthews, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Moe Harkless, Glenn Robinson III and Alec Burks. Harris may cost too much. A couple of those listed have player options they’d have to decline. But you get the point: The Bulls will be working the margins to improve.

Do you think Lauri Markkanen gets an extension this offseason? I think it’s a good move for the Bulls because his value is likely at an all-time low. — @thegeorgeyou, via Twitter

Well, we found Karnisovas’ burner account.

This is a tough one to predict. I wouldn’t say Markkanen’s value is at an all-time low because he’s still valued around the league, albeit with reservations. But, yes, coming off a season where his production dropped, his injury history continued and his usage mystified, this will be a tough negotiation.

If you’re the Bulls, you obviously try to negotiate from a hard-line stance to keep the books as clean as possible without alienating his camp. Luckily, Karnisovas and Markkanen’s agent have a strong relationship, but that doesn’t guarantee anything except cordiality during negotiations. And Markkanen remains under the Bulls’ rights as a restricted free agent in 2021 if no extension is reached, albeit one with roughly a $20 million cap hold.

I think given that the new regime likely is viewing 2020-21 as a see-what-we’ve-got season, it’s more likely than not that no extension is reached. Then, you negotiate again in 2021 depending on how Markkanen fared.

This strategy cost the Bulls a lot of money in the Jimmy Butler scenario. But it’s a good problem to have if a player with current question marks blossoms into a star — like Butler did and like Karnisovas hopes Markkanen can.

With a new leader in the front office, what changes do you see being made to the Bulls team?? Whether it’s a coaching change, front office cleaning, or player change? — @DROYJohnson, via Twitter

Save for the unknown of the coaching staff decision, I think the majority of change has occurred. Karnisovas is on record as saying no further changes to the front office, at least this offseason. I’d expect him to build out the player development and scouting staffs at some point.


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