Lauri Markkanen’s long-term future with the Bulls has been a topic of discussion ever since the fourth-year forward and management failed to reach an extension on his rookie-scale contract in advance of last December’s deadline.
Markkanen will be a restricted free agent this offseason, giving the Bulls the right to match any offer he receives. That is, unless they trade him by Thursday’s deadline.
“I’m not making any predictions on that. I’m going day-by-day and controlling what I can control,” Markkanen said Friday via Zoom following the team’s shootaround in Denver. “I’m 100 percent committed, and that’s how it still is.”
To be clear, there’s no indication the Bulls are planning to do so. In fact, both times that executive vice president Artūras Karnišovas has addressed Markkanen publicly, he has effusively praised him.
Here’s Karnišovas from Dec. 1, 2020: "We like Lauri and we would like him to be part of this organization for a long time.”
And here he is from March 1, when Markkanen sat on the sidelines with a sprained shoulder: “The things that before the season we set the expectations for Lauri, I think he met. Obviously before he got hurt, he was 19 (ppg) and shooting 52 percent from the floor and 40 from the 3. I think that’s what he can do on a daily basis. We can’t wait for him to come back and help this team win games.”
And then there’s the fact that the Bulls did, indeed, offer Markkanen a multi-year deal during those extension talks. The two sides just differed on value -- reported at the time by NBC Sports Chicago to be roughly $4 million annually.
Karnišovas also consistently emphasizes the importance of shooting.
There have been whispers throughout the league all season of a potential Markkanen for Lonzo Ball swap. But one league source indicated this week that such speculation is mostly centered on the fact that both players are headed to restricted free agency and theorized that Ball's strong play would almost certainly lead to the New Orleans Pelicans asking for additional assets if any such talks occurred. Given that Markkanen has played well for the Bulls, Karnišovas likely would take the same approach.
Plus, there's the matter of why teams would surrender assets for a player they could chase in restricted free agency this offseason for nothing but money.
Markkanen has averaged 17.6 points on 47.7 percent shooting, including 43.9 percent from 3-point range, in his five games since his return from injury. His season statistics sit at 18.7 points on 50.4 percent shooting, including 40.8 percent from 3-point range.
But his 6 rebounds per game represents a career-low. And he’s only getting to the free-throw line 2.9 times a game. Those areas, not his future with the organization, are what dominates conversation between Markkanen and management.
“I want to be more active on the court. I feel like I haven’t made shots the way that I can make them,” Markkanen said. “Just make plays for my teammates, and obviously the rebounding area, I mean that’s one of the things Billy (Donovan) challenged me in coming back from an injury, just being physical even though I was coming back from an injury.”
Markkanen said he has a strong enough relationship with Karnišovas to approach him for clarity on his future if he wanted to and emphasized he feels valued by the new regime.
“I don’t know if I’m going to, but that’s something I can easily do if I wanted to,” he said of discussing his future with Karnišovas. “Like I’ve said the whole year, I like the system, I like the way we’re playing as a team. I’ve liked it the whole year. I haven’t had any problems with that, so I have a good feeling.
“I have a good relationship with AK and same thing with Billy. If that wasn’t the case, they would tell me. I’m happy. Obviously, we’ve gotta win more games and there’s things we can get better at. And that’s what we’re trying to focus on right now.’’