Lauri Markkanen’s days with the Chicago Bulls may very well be numbered. In a recent phone interview with NBC Sports Chicago, the former No. 7 overall pick revealed his plans to test the free agency waters this offseason.
“My thing is I think I’ve always been a team-first guy. And I think now it’s time to look at the business side of the game,” said Markkanen. “I feel like I’m only 23 years old and I have a lot of basketball ahead of me. It’s a good opportunity to look what’s out there for me. I can be a focal point. I think I have a lot more to offer.”
While the 7-footer may have seen a dip in total usage this past season, he did shoot a career-high 48.0% in 2020-21, including a personal-best 40.2% from 3-point range. That tantalizing combination of size and sharpshooting is enough to entice a laundry list of potential bidders. This could reign especially true for Boston Celtics‘ president of basketball operations Danny Ainge, who has been widely outspoken about his desire to add shooters with size to his lineup in recent months.
“Markkanen is an intriguing possibility for the Celtics, who sought ‘shooting with size’ prior to the NBA trade deadline,” wrote NBC Sports Boston’s Darren Hartwell. “Boston’s tallest rotation player (Tristan Thompson) is only 6-foot-9, so the C’s desperately could use some height in addition to the quality outside shooting Markkanen would provide.”
“It’s clear that Boston needs more scoring depth outside Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, though,” Hartwell added. “The 23-year-old Markkanen has a high ceiling in that department, so Ainge and Co. should at least explore adding the Finland native if the price is right.”
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Markkanen Rejected Bulls Extension
Projected to be approximietely $22 million over the salary cap next season, landing a player of Markkanen’s magnitude would likely entail a fair share of roster shuffling from the Cs. On top of that, the Bulls have the ability to match any offer sheet offered to Markkanen.
The Finnish big man did reject a multi-year contract extension from Chicago prior to this season after the two parties were rumored to be separated by $4 million annually — a decision that doesn’t appear to keep Markkanen up at night.
“I don’t have any regrets turning [the extension] down,” he told Bulls insider K.C. Johnson. “I think I did the right decision. I have a lot of basketball ahead of me. I can do a lot of different stuff on the court. I’m confident in my abilities.”
Markkanen’s Dip in Production
While Markkanen honed in as a shooter this season, he saw his overall production take a dip, something that has occurred now in back-to-back years. After posting career highs in both points (18.7) and rebounds (9.0) in 2018, he’s seen his scoring and rebounding output trickle downwards ever since, culminating in a 13.6-point, 5.3-rebound per game stat line in 2020-21 — both of which mark career-lows.
A major part of Markkanen’s decline in production can be attributed to Chicago’s in-season moves in the frontcourt. Two-time All-Star Nikola Vucevic and ex-Celtic Daniel Theis each joined the Bulls at the trade deadline, reducing Markkanen to a reserve role.
Head coach Billy Donovan has publically backed the Arizona product’s role with the team. However, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Markkanen chose to see if he can garner a more primary gig with a different suitor this offseason.
A career 15.6 ppg scorer with the type of skillset that completely eludes the Celtics’ frontcourt, he’s certainly an intriguing target for Boston. He’s also not the full-blow superstar that would entail moving off of All-Star Jaylen Brown in order to yield.