Lauri Markkanen remains in NBA-free agency limbo

Lauri Markkanen remains in NBA-free agency limbo

Only a few years back, Lauri Markkanen seemed like he was headed for a maximum contract. Now, the Chicago Bulls forward and former No. 7 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft remains one of the few unsigned veterans in the league more than a week into free agency.

Markkanen’s 7-footer three-point shooting has made him a tempting talent. Although that may sound like Markkanen could be a valuable NBA player, his game didn’t materialize in Chicago during his four-year tenure. Markkanen finds himself in an awkward spot as the Bulls replace the original front office that drafted Markkanen while boldly reshaping the roster. Markkanen has become one of few remaining premier free agents on a market where there is very little salary cap space.

Markkanen publicly stated that he is ready to move out of Chicago. While he doesn’t seem to be part of the Bulls long-term plan, the team has full leverage since Markkanen is a restricted-free agent. Markkanen seems to be languishing in the open market, with the Bulls demanding that he receive a first-round pick in any deal-and-trade.

Chicago: How Lauri Markkanen was thrown out of favour

When the Bulls purchased Markkanen’s rights, the former Bulls front office led by John Paxson & Gar Forman traded star guard Jimmy Butler, who was still under contract for two years, to the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Bulls bought Markkanen. Tom Thibodeau (Billy’s ex-coach in Chicago), completed the trade which sent out No. 7, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn were traded to Butler for the No. 16 pick.

The Bulls’ first season was promising for Markkanen. On average, he scored 15.2 points per contest while shooting 36.2 percent from the three-point line. Although the Bulls finished the season with a terrible record of 27-55, LaVine was still recovering from knee surgery and Markkanen looked legitimately like a key piece.

Markkanen’s performance didn’t improve over the three following years. The Bulls were also not as fortunate.

Markkanen was not able to make his own offensive looks. This problem became more acute for a Bulls team that didn’t have a consistent point guard. Markkanen’s assists increased from 68% to 73% to 85% to 85%. Markkanen felt often like an one-dimensional shooter in a team lacking a skilled facilitator who could get him easy shots.

Markannen’s rest of the game was still disappointing. His average assist, steal and block rate was less than one per 36 minutes. He had 273 assists and 301 turnovers in his four first years of Chicago.

Markkanen’s scoring power wasn’t used to improve the performance of his teammates. He was not able to provide enough protection at the rim to play center and wasn’t fast enough to use new-age fours from the perimeter. Although his rebounding stats were good, they weren’t very inspiring.

During Markkanen’s first four seasons in Chicago, the Bulls posted the worst record in the NBA.

As Markkanen was about to retire, the Bulls will be reorganizing their front office. The new front office, led by Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley, reportedly offered Markkanen an extension believed to be around $15 million annually before the start of the season. They were thought to have been about 4 million miles apart each season.

Markkanen’s fourth season would see him post the greatest numbers in his career, hitting over 40 percent of his threes the first time. But it became clear that Bulls management was not going to sit on the sidelines waiting for a new contract before making changes to the roster.

Markkanen’s free-agent market: How it dried up

The Bulls began a hectic offseason, despite exceeding the salary cap. Chicago signed Lonzo Ball to a 4-year deal with the Pelicans. Alex Caruso was also granted a mid-level deal. DeMar DeRozan, however, had already agreed to a 3-year deal with the Spurs.

There was a report that San Antonio was interested in taking back Markkanen in the DeRozan sign-and-trade, but according to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, the Spurs weren’t willing to give Markkanen the contract he was looking for. Instead, the Bulls released Thad Young and protected 2025 picks.

Kristian Winfield reported that Markkanen wanted more money than the teams would give.

Instead of Markkanen, the Hornets signed Kelly Oubre using their remaining cap space. Markkanen will need to work with multiple teams if he wants to move to another team.

How does Markkanen’s market for free agents look now?

Markkanen gave an interview with a Finnish journalist last week and said he was ready to leave Chicago.

We have offers from many different teams. My NBA career needs a new start. I hope things get sorted quickly with the Bulls.

Markkanen may not want it, but there are many reasons that this will be difficult. One reason is the lack of cap space in the league. He doesn’t appear to be interested in any other serious suitsors. He is still a restricted-free agent and the Bulls have the right to match any offer. According to insider Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report, the Bulls want to acquire a first round pick in any sign-and-trade deal with Markkanen to another deal, and Chicago is urging potential suitors to find a third team in the deal so they won’t have to take any salary back.

The Bulls could make a trade with Markkanen that would send Markkanen to another team and give back one rounder, to replace the first rounders the team lost when they acquired DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic. Markkanen could get the new contract and fresh start he needs. Sign-and-trade could lead to potential destinations like the Mavericks and Timberwolves as well as Markkanen.

Markkanen could also return to Chicago under the qualifying offer for one year. Markkanen would be able to apply for an unrestricted, free agent next season. The Bulls might also keep Markkanen as a bench player to help them win the championship. Although Markannen is not a good fit for a position as either a power forward or center alongside Vucevic, it’s possible that the Bulls would be happy to have another frontcourt shooter.

Although the Markkanen issue will be resolved soon, it is possible that the situation could drag on as the league shifts its focus to the trading market. Markkanen is only 24 and still stands a good chance of a lucrative NBA career. This especially if he can get to play for a top-level team.

Both sides benefit from a fresh start. Let’s see how we can get there.

Publiated at Tue 10 Aug 2021, 18:32.05 (+0000).

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