Lauri Markkanen's restricted free agency is one of the final items for the Chicago Bulls to address in what has been an active negotiation period.
The fourth-year forward, who expressed a desire to test the market after the end of the 2020-21 season, has watched cap space dry up across the league over the course of the week. But it appears a suitor has entered the fray.
The Charlotte Hornets "have emerged with strong interest" in a potential offer sheet for Markkanen, The Athletic's Shams Charania reported Thursday afternoon.
If the Hornets use cap space to sign Markkanen to an offer sheet, the Bulls, who extended Markkanen a qualifying offer, would have three days to decide whether to match it or let him walk.
There is also the possibility of a sign-and-trade, of which Bulls fans have seen plenty this offseason in the acquisitions of Lonzo Ball and DeMar DeRozan, and the departure of Daniel Theis. In a best-case scenario, the Bulls could attempt to recoup draft capital or a productive player in exchange for Markkanen.
Markkanen and the Bulls failed to reach an agreement on a contract extension last offseason, setting up a prove-it year for the 2017 seventh overall pick and centerpiece of the Jimmy Butler trade. In 51 games, he averaged career-lows in scoring (13.6) and rebounds (5.3) — and while he shot career-high percentages from the field (48) and 3-point range (40.2), he lost his starting spot to Theis following the Bulls' frontcourt overhaul at the trade deadline.
In Charlotte may be a fresh start. He certainly would benefit from playing alongside a point guard like LaMelo Ball. It's worth noting that the Hornets have beefed up their frontcourt this offseason with the additions of Mason Plumlee (via trade), Kai Jones and JT Thor (draft) — not to mention already-existing mainstays in Miles Bridges, PJ Washington and Gordon Hayward. Still, Markkanen would be an interesting fit, especially offensively.
If Markkanen is unable to find an offer sheet on the open market, there also remains the possibility of him returning to the Bulls on his roughly $9 million qualifying offer. That would position him to enter unrestricted free agency next offseason.
But Markkanen is seeking long-term security, and he and the Bulls haven't further engaged on a potential extension. If he will be able to find what he seeks at this juncture remains to be seen.