Bulls Insider

Bulls mailbag: Will Markkanen sign extension before season?

Bulls Insider

Who said preseason basketball isn’t exciting? (Oh, wait, I probably did.) Well, anyway, judging from the number of queries received, you’re fired up for some preseason hoops.

Do you think the Bulls will get an extension done with Lauri Markkanen before the Dec. 21 deadline? --- @FlyTheWTonight, via Twitter

I do. But I’m also no bueno when it comes to sports predictions.

Here’s what I’m basing that guess on: Markkanen and his family love living in Chicago and playing for the Bulls. I’m not saying he’s going to take a massive hometown discount. But I do think long-term security in the place he wants to be may mean something more to him than chasing every last dollar.

Couple that with Artūras Karnišovas' surprising openness about wanting to seal the deal, and I think common ground is found.

During media week, Markkanen stated that he was pushing his agent for an extension before deadline on Dec 21. From the Bulls’ perspective, would it be better if they keep options open for cap space next summer or sign Lauri to a team-friendly, four-year, $60 million deal now so they don’t lose him for nothing? --- Kyle M.

 

Markkanen’s salary-cap hold next offseason is $20.2 million. So agreeing to any annual salary less than that helps the Bulls’ cap picture. But when I said hometown discount, I wasn’t thinking this low. Dāvis Bertāns just signed a five-year, $80 million deal this offseason. Also, Markkanen would simply become a restricted free agent next offseason if no extension is reached. That means the Bulls still own the power to match any offer sheet he signs.

After a great game to start the season last year, Markkanen often seemed stuck on the perimeter waiting for someone to pass him the ball.  It was incredibly frustrating to watch since that role made it so much easier for the opposing team to guard him. Watching his highlights from last year (sadly too few), he impressed the most when he wasn't in the catch-and-shoot role but driving and moving with and without the ball.

I know that Billy Donovan has indicated that there will be more movement this year. If that is the case do you feel that Markkanen can approach the success he had especially during the month of February 2019 when he averaged 26 points and 12 rebounds a game? --- John P.

I don’t see Markkanen approaching those averages, but I do think he’s going to have a bounceback season. He’s too talented not to, and I think this staff will do exactly what you say and what Donovan has stressed. Get him on the move.

I don’t see anybody approaching those averages in this offense. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see LaVine’s scoring average drop a bit in light of more team success. Not to say LaVine played selfishly last season because I’ve defended him from that charge. But too often, he was playing isolation ball or placed in a bailout situation because of stagnant offensive sets. I’d predict more movement and more equal opportunity offense this season.

The No. 1 problem with Markkanen that no one wants to talk about is he has "no fire in his gut," "no eye of the tiger." Even as kids playing on the playgrounds, we wanted to beat the brains out of the team we were playing. He seems to have an "awww shucks" attitude toward the game. What are your thoughts on this? --- Tom H.

My thoughts are this question will close this edition of the Lauri Markkanen mailbag, and the fact I’m answering it means someone, at least, is talking about your theory.

 

Did you think that when he averaged said 26 points and 12 rebounds in February 2019? He looked pretty aggressive and competitive to me then. And too often, particularly with last year’s regression, Markkanen’s strong defensive rebounding -- even in traffic -- is overlooked.

I understand the question. Markkanen has a low-key personality. That, along with his team-first mentality, proved a docile combination for last season’s offense. Too often, he ceded into the background. But I think that’s a coaching issue, not a competitive one.

We’ve all been positively teased by the great highlight reels we’ve seen of Patrick Williams over the last couple of weeks. He absolutely looks like a stud. And he appears to score from everywhere on the court. But we all know highlight reels can lie about just how good a player really is. So I’m wondering in your opinion if Williams is living up to his hype, falling below it or maybe even surpassing it. --- Rick L.

I’ll just say this: I won’t do anything to slow the Williams train. Somebody I trust inherently, somebody who knows the league extremely well and has been fairly critical of the Bulls in the past, told me that the organization nailed this pick and that Williams has all the talent and makings to be the best player in the draft. So hype away.

Is there any chance if Patrick Williams performs well, he could be in the starting lineup with the core four on opening night? With everyone on a clean slate with a new regime in place, could that benefit him if Otto Porter Jr. is not playing well to start the year? --- H.T.

I assume Porter starts. But it’s clear in Donovan’s limited comments about Porter that he plans to monitor his health and make sure his body feels right. So I certainly think the opportunity for playing time will be there. Chandler Hutchison also will be vying for minutes.

Here’s what Donovan said about playing rookies, which I thought was a great answer:

For any young player, the mistakes are going to happen. That’s part of their growth and development. You know that’s coming as a coach. The biggest thing for me with young players is the reliability piece. A lot of times guys think they get on the floor with their offense when they’re young. That evolves as they go through a season or their career or a couple of years. You think about it, most guys are going to be playing defense a lot more than they’re, so to speak, playing offense with the ball in their hands. They’re going to have to get back in transition. They’re going to have to communicate. They’re going to have to handle pick-and-rolls. They’re going to have to handle getting over screens and DHOs (dribble-handoffs). They’re going to have to get inside and physically block out. They’ve got to learn the league. That’s a huge piece, learning personnel in the league, who they’re guarding, what are different things that they do in terms of tricks and being older and veteran. That’s the learning curve you have to go through. If guys are reliable in terms of you know what you’re getting from them, in terms of their effort, their concentration and their focus, I think you’re going to be able to live and understand that there’s going to be mistakes that are made just through growth.”

 

And this is why I think Williams will play. He has a defensive mindset. He physically has an NBA-ready body. And he’s a humble and hungry worker.

I see Thad Young, Lauri, Patrick Williams and Wendell Carter Jr. (a guy asking to be a PF) as a big logjam there. I would guess two of those are gone in 18 months. Would you be willing to put your own prediction? --- Alejandro Y.

Well, Young will be gone for sure, either by virtue of his contract expiring or a trade before then. I think it’s fair to speculate that the Bulls may ultimately choose between Markkanen and Carter. But I’ve been consistent in saying the talk about Carter as an undersized center and not a fit alongside Markkanen is overblown. If they do ultimately choose, it will be because of lack of production to me, not poor fit.

Do you think we will see some Markkanen at center this year? I love Carter, but offensively I always felt like Lauri could open up the offense more at center. If Otto and Hutch stay healthy and Williams gets into the rotation, the Bulls could have the wing depth to pull it off. Thoughts? --- Jaime M.

It’s a whole new staff. Everything is on the table. I don’t know Donovan nor his philosophies well enough to speculate. What I do know is he has talked about getting Markkanen on the move more. Small ball certainly is one way to accomplish that. Let’s get nutty.

 

Do you think Zach Lavine will stay in Chicago for a long time ? --- Gaël T., France

I think we’ll have that answer by the start of next training camp. I’ve said on our Bulls Talk podcast plenty of times that I’m not convinced LaVine is a fit for Karnišovas’ philosophy. But Karnišovas and Donovan have heaped praise on LaVine to this point. So stay tuned. This season will provide the answer.

How do you see the bench lineup playing out? It feels like the Bulls may have a relatively deep, reliable rotation. Just a thought; would love to hear your opinion. Hypothetical: Tomas Satoransky, Young, Daniel Gafford, Hutchison, Garrett Temple, Denzel Valentine. ---Tyler B.

You also could make the case that with the oddity to this season and potential for COVID-19 cases that using a deep rotation would be beneficial.

I think you hit on the 11 of the 12 that I’d focus on in terms of battling for minutes. Williams would be the other one. Like all teams and seasons, playing time typically works itself out based on production, injuries, etc. But I agree with your overall point: I wrote recently that for a 22-win team, the Bulls are actually pretty deep on paper.

The Bulls have a brutal schedule to start the year. How badly would they have to start the year for the front office to make massive changes at the trade deadline? --- @CataloniaCNT

This is completely my opinion, but I don’t think the record will determine whether Karnišovas makes changes. I think he plans to reshape this roster in his philosophy when the right opportunities present themselves. You could even see it in his first set of offseason decisions. While some questioned his decision to retain Valentine and let Kris Dunn and Shaq Harrison walk for nothing, it showed how he places a value on shooting and passing and offensive acumen. I expect this roster to look substantially different entering next season.

It’s clear that this season, or at least up until the trade deadline, is a "see what we have" approach from the front office with a focus on player development. Therefore, what do you think is a realistic win-loss record for this team that would be considered a success? --- Matt A.

 

Well, my prediction, which, again, I’m bad at, and what would be considered a success by others could be two different things. I see them going 27-45.

We are hearing a lot about “player development” from AKME, with several new player development staff hires, Donovan being a player development coach, etc. This seems smart to me; the market seems to discount the value of players on a losing team, which means you tend to lose value in trades and signings. So invest in the players you have to get better. But what does that mean, actually?  Is it just a fancy term for coaching, or is there something more to it than that? --- Luther S.

Broadly speaking, it obviously means maximizing your young asset. Yes, it’s mostly coaching. But it’s also off-the-court stuff. How to take care of your body. How to eat right. How to improve off film study. How to handle free time. How to become a pro. How to have good mental health. Organizations invest millions of dollars on athletes, and they’re coming into the league younger and sometimes with a less-than-fundamental base. It’s smart to invest in this department.

Do you reckon the Bulls will bring back Joakim Noah, maybe on a one-day contract, so he can retire “the right way?” --- Oscar, Australia

Since this is strictly a ceremonial affair, I can see it happening. It happened for Luol Deng. If this is something Noah wanted to pursue, I’d see ownership and John Paxson, who drafted him, being on board with this. Billy Donovan coached him in college and thinks the world of Noah. He’s always welcomed back by the franchise. Donovan said this week he knows Noah wants to continue doing some work in the community here through his foundation.

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