Bulls Insider

Bulls mailbag: How will Lauri Markkanen saga end?

Bulls Insider

Less than five weeks until training camp. Do you know where the Chicago Bulls’ 14th man is?

On to your questions, and there are a massive amount of them:

Are you surprised that Lauri Markkanen is still a Bull? --- Ron H.

There’s a reason it’s called restricted free agency.

Remember how Zach LaVine signed an offer sheet from the Sacramento Kings when his restricted free agency began in 2018? The Bulls matched it, of course. But that’s the best option to move elsewhere if that’s what the player desires, which Markkanen has said he does. Sign an offer sheet and force your current team to make a decision.

With salary cap space dried up around the league — save for the Oklahoma City Thunder — Markkanen now needs the Bulls’ cooperation in a sign-and-trade. Thus, the Bulls have leverage and can be selective and demanding in their return. For now, they’ve made clear in all proposals they’ve fielded from teams — and I’m told up to four teams have presented scenarios — that they’re seeking at least a first-round pick and no bad long-term money.

It’s instructive to remember that both Artūras Karnišovas and Billy Donovan consistently have praised Markkanen publicly. And having a 7-footer who shot 40 percent from 3-point range come off the bench at a roughly $9 million salary, which is Markkanen’s qualifying offer, is surely appealing to the Bulls if their asking price isn’t met. It’s a fluid situation. Stay tuned.

 

Regarding Lauri, how badly burned is this bridge? I know we're dealing with young professional athletes, but I don't see how he couldn't have had an in-house discussion with Billy D or AK. I guess there's some leverage/maneuvering to publicly leaking something but seems like for all parties it would've been better to deal with it internally. As a working stiff who's worked with younger people (and having been a younger person myself making these types of mistakes), it's still painful to watch. There does seem to be an element of naivete involved, as far as Lauri's expectations. I hope he's back. And my point is with some smooth talking, do you think he could buy into the bench role to play up his own value for next season? --- Elijah H.

I assume you’re talking about his “fresh start” comment to a Finnish reporter.

As with all situations, there are two perspectives to consider and shades of grey. From Markkanen’s perspective, he didn’t return to his native Finland last offseason and trained here in Chicago, fully believing he’d sign a long-term extension with the Bulls. Then the two sides fell roughly $4 million apart annually in those discussions. Then management tried to trade him at the deadline. Then he lost his starting job. One can see how, from his view, the aforementioned public praise hasn’t always squared with his reality.

Markkanen isn’t a boat rocker. For him to even say as much he did in a postseason interview about being excited to explore the business side of basketball, and then strengthening it recently by telling that Finnish media outlet he wanted a fresh start, is a telling sign. He’s not lying.

That said, he’s under contract. The Bulls feel they’ve been above board with him in terms of communication and offered him a fair extension before last season. If no sign-and-trade deal is to their liking this offseason, they’d work under the assumption that you do: Markkanen playing well and buying in is his best path to his next contract.

For what it’s worth, my opinion is this: The Bulls have created a ton of positive momentum with their offseason moves. Why bring back a player who has made it clear he’d like to be elsewhere? To this point, the Bulls have turned down deals for Markkanen, who has had a sign-and-trade market. Maybe accept a less-than-perfect one to give both sides a fresh start, especially since it’s likely Markkanen would walk in unrestricted free agency next offseason.

While I’m pleased with the overall offseason to this point, this roster is lacking power forwards. Thoughts? --- Jim H.

My main thought is: You’re right — for now.

 

Patrick Williams looks like the starter there. DeMar DeRozan has played plenty there in small ball lineups. That’s a look that Billy Donovan can use as he staggers starters’ minutes. And then Markkanen could be back.

If Markkanen isn’t back — or even if he is — it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Bulls add a veteran on a minimum contract to supply more depth. Paul Millsap and LaMarcus Aldridge are possibilities, although Aldridge would of course need medical clearance and a full decision that he’s prepared to return.

Could you shed some light on why the Bulls didn't try to resign Daniel Theis? I thought that was a really underrated trade at the deadline. And given our needs, we could really use a defensive-minded, shot-blocking, athletic big who can defend both the 4 or 5 spot. Given that he signed with a rebuilding Houston team for an amount we could have comfortably matched, what exactly happened? Did he want to leave or did AKME just have no interest in bringing him back? --- Farhan A.

There was early talk around the league that he was headed elsewhere. I was writing it in these mailbags almost as soon as the season ended. The team I heard him most linked to was Charlotte. But it was pretty clear he wasn’t going to be a priority to be re-signed. How much of that was based on the salary he sought and how much it was based on the Bulls’ happiness with him, I’m not sure.

For whatever it’s worth, I didn’t think he played great for the Bulls after the trade. And it’s clear management had a vision for the starting lineup with Williams at power forward.

How likely do you think it is that Coby White remains a Bull at the end of the season? I feel like he would be the main trade chip the Bulls have for an in-season move. And he doesn’t obviously fit the new-look Bulls team. This may not be a realistic move, but I think trading him for someone like Lu Dort would make sense for the team. --- Peter H.

I’d strongly disagree with the assertion he doesn’t fit this team. To me, he fits it quite well, actually, in a scoring bench role, playing alongside the more defensive-minded Alex Caruso. He’s also on a rookie deal.

That said, I understand the premise of the question. Management added roughly 173 guards this offseason — or so it seems. I personally thought White had a solid season, particularly once Nikola Vučević arrived and he found himself in more catch-and-shoot and less decision-making situations. I think he’s a valuable rotation piece.

Any update on the Coby White shoulder situation and around the time he will return? --- Bryce Y.

The Bulls said he would be re-evaluated in October. Other players who had surgery to repair a torn labrum, which White did, were listed as out up to six months. So that would be December. It will be somewhere in that range.

 

Nobody is talking about Vuc. The way he opened up the offense with last year’s roster should look twice as nice this year. I think he has a lot of triple doubles in his future. That’s kind of going under the radar right now? --- Anonymous

I bet Donovan is talking about Vučević. And I agree. He projects to feast as a pick-and-pop option with the addition of DeRozan on top of LaVine.

Clearly for the Bulls to be successful, everyone is going to need to sacrifice. For me Vooch is going to need to sacrifice the most given the pace at which the other guys can/should play. Do you agree? --- Matt A.

Maybe in theory, yes. Especially because I’ve heard the Bulls want to play a lot faster and have Ball push the pace. But he can still be a great trail option in such situations. And I see a lot of open shots for him with the amount of attention that DeRozan and LaVine command. Plus, Ball is such a willing facilitator. Let’s see how the games play out.

I like all the additions. But the Bulls are still behind the Bucks, Nets, and 76ers and probably have equal talent with Celtics, Hawks, and Knicks. But they also may lag behind those three because of less team chemistry due to all of the turnover.  So I would put them as seventh in the East.  Where do you rank them? --- KL S.

You forgot the Heat.

I don’t make seeding or record predictions in August. It’s in my contract. (Actually, it’s not.) But I think you raise a point that is pretty widespread and why so many oddsmakers are placing the Bulls’ over/under for victories in the low 40s. It’s a tough conference, and there’s a lot of question marks.

I know this: The games should be more entertaining. And without making an official prediction yet, this is feeling like a 44-to-45-victory team to me.

Given the flurry of roster changes, how would you view the rotation and how deep into the bench would you expect Donovan to leverage early to mid-season? --- Hugh O’D

This, to me, is one of the more underrated storylines to the Bulls’ offseason. Donovan has a ton of flexibility with his rotations, particularly if he staggers DeRozan’s minutes and plays him some at power forward in small-ball lineups. And the roster isn’t done.

With not much left in the free agent pool, which players (names) would you like to see the Bulls take a flyer with using the last few remaining roster spots? Older vets? Summer league roster? Younger, unproven players that need some development? --- Thomas B.

 

Millsap or Aldridge would provide some solid, veteran stability in the frontcourt. They’re also still a bit thin at wing and you never can have enough shooting. James Ennis is still out there. I know he polarizes the fan base, but Denzel Valentine back on a minimum wouldn’t bother me.

I also wouldn’t be surprised to see the Bulls carry 14 players because they have a trade exception from the Theis sign-and-trade that they can use to execute an uneven trade into during the season. Or maybe the 15th man has a non- or partially-guaranteed deal.

Do you have news on recent Bulls whose contracts were not renewed by the organization, i.e. Ryan Arcidiacono and Denzel Valentine? As a diehard Bulls fan since the dynasty, I do wish our players well even if they are no longer with the team. --- Alan G.

When the Bulls declined Arcidiacono’s $3 million team option, I wrote you can do far worse for a 15th man than him. He takes charges, plays hard, makes the occasional 3-pointer and is a great teammate and practice player. The drafting of Ayo Dosunmu may override all that. But as you mention, he remains unsigned. He’ll latch on somewhere, if it’s not here.

Lonzo Ball seemed to suggest he was misused by the Pelicans as a 3-and-D player.  How does he fit in with a lineup with more established playmakers in DeRozan and Lavine? --- Gerald G.

The Bulls are banking on: Quite well. And he won’t be in that same situation with the Bulls. Ideally, he’ll be the motor for the Bulls’ desire to play faster this season. And while his improved 3-point shooting will still be counted on, he’ll be more of a connecting and facilitating piece for the sublime scoring skills of LaVine and DeRozan.

Do you envisage Patrick Williams ever developing into a serious threat offensively in the league in the same kind of capacity as Kawhi Leonard? I'm not comparing the skillset or the stats (although eerily similar during their rookie years) or that he can ever be as unintentionally funny as Kawhi (I'm not sure P Will laughs) but more the development into an elite offensive player. Someone who can rack up 40 points in a game or someone you trust to have the ball in their hands when the clock is winding down. Can you learn that? Or on some level do you just have it? --- Jimmy B.

I don’t think there’s one answer for your last question, but my belief is you just kind of have it. And it’s a legit question/concern with Williams, who inarguably possesses skill and athleticism. He won’t be needed to do those things yet on this roster. But at some point, as the fourth overall pick, he might. The Bulls believe he can. It’s on him. He’s a hard worker and willing student. I think the role he played at Summer League shows that he has potential.

 

RELATED: Why Bulls were encouraged by Williams' Summer League

Is there any chance that there is already a verbal agreement for a sign-and-trade for Lauri and/or final signings to fill up remaining roster spots, but just not yet announced due to the ongoing tampering investigation? --- Gene Y.

I haven’t heard that. And I know talks surrounding Markkanen are ongoing. The only link I can see is that if the Bulls are found guilty and docked draft capital, it would increase their need to recoup some if they sign-and-trade Markkanen.

Do you think there is a bright future for the Bulls after the DeMar/Vooch era with all the draft compensation they’ve lost? --- Jason S.

That’s part of the risk management has taken. What is this team’s ceiling? And what are the future avenues to improve it? The Bulls obviously are banking on significant improvement from Williams. And Ball aligns with Williams as far as the younger wave to develop as Vučević and DeRozan age out over the next three to five years. No pressure on nailing the 2022 first-round pick or anything.

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