Lauri Markkanen said he knew landing in rumors would be a possibility as soon as he and the Bulls failed to hit on a rookie contract extension last December, so he’s in a good place mentally as Thursday’s trade deadline arrives.
Wendell Carter Jr. said rumors -- of which, unlike Markkanen-for-Lonzo-Ball talk, he’s currently not involved -- bothered him his rookie season but no longer.
So there goes that explanation for Wednesday night’s clunker of a 103-94 loss to a woefully shorthanded Cleveland Cavaliers team.
Carter offered another.
“I feel like from the get-go as a team we underestimated them. We just thought we could show up and play just because of their record,” Carter said. “Whatever everybody else was thinking, I don’t know. But that’s kind of the vibe I was getting.
“Even in the warmups, I’m like, ‘Man, c’mon.’ This is another game for us, another opportunity for us to get better. S---, we’re not one of the best teams in the league either. You can’t underestimate anybody.”
You also can’t underestimate how other teams see the same disappointing inconsistencies that executive vice president Artūras Karnišovas and general manager Marc Eversley see in this season of evaluation. Translated: The Bulls aren’t exactly loaded with trade assets. Generally speaking: Veterans hold some value; the young players need to step it up.
Interest in Thad Young will continue on Thursday’s deadline, although bigger name power forwards like Aaron Gordon are ahead of him in line. The Bulls didn’t hold anybody out of Wednesday’s game, but coach Billy Donovan did close with Carter over Young for the first time in awhile.
“I thought it might give us some size or length at the basket because I thought they certainly got downhill and played at the rim and we really had a hard time defending at the basket,” Donovan said of his decision. “It was just more the number of minutes Thad had accumulated consecutively.”
In other words, the Bulls weren’t biting on the theory -- on any front -- that Wednesday’s performance or approach to it had anything to do with Thursday’s trade deadline.
Including reacting to it with a blow-it-up mindset.
“Just in my short period of time with Artūras, I think he’s pretty patient and calculated and deliberate. I can’t imagine one game would alter his feelings toward anything,” Donovan said. “I think he’s going to probably look at the season in its totality of the 40-plus games that we’ve played. I wouldn’t anticipate that this game is all of a sudden going to trigger some kind of reaction.”
Even if it did, again, other teams aren’t exactly offering rich deals for young players whose promise outweighs production to this point.
Markkanen is different. There is interest in him, and the Bulls have had talks with the New Orleans Pelicans centered on Ball. How rich of an offer Karnišovas is willing to make for a player who, like Markkanen, can be signed to an offer sheet in restricted free agency will be revealed by Thursday’s deadline.
Markkanen isn’t sweating it.
“I'm in a good place that I can focus on the task at hand. I can play games and it's not gonna bother me,” he said of the deadline. “I can't control that.”
What players can control is performance. The Bulls play nine of their next 10 on the road. Roster changes or not, buckle up.