Right now the Chicago Bulls’ focus is on their playoff push, but the upcoming offseason will be a highly anticipated one in regards to free agency.
Fans can thank the Nikola Vucevic trade for raising the expectation around the Windy City.
The 2021 free agency class isn’t star-studded, barring Kawhi Leonard making an exit from Los Angeles, but the Bulls will have an opportunity to both retain and acquire win-now talent.
But it may all depend on Chicago’s plans for Lauri Markkanen.
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Markkanen on the Way Out?
In his latest for Bleacher Report, Every NBA Team’s Biggest Flight Risk This Offseason, Dan Favale dubbed Markkanen the most likely Bulls (restricted) free agent not to return:
His role in Chicago only became fuzzier after the Nikola Vucevic trade. The Bulls no longer have the bandwith to give him experimental reps–and they didn’t seem inclined to do so in the first place. A career-high 81.9 percent of his made baskets are coming off of assists.
Chicago’s fourth-year forward has had an up-and-down season, that only got more complex with the arrival of Vucevic and Daniel Theis at the March 25 trade deadline.
Favale is right, in that Markkanen’s role has grown even smaller in the seven games since. Even in a market that may be deprived of serious buyers, there’s little confidence in his return to Chicago:
Entering restricted free agency to a lukewarm market will increase the chances that Markkanen will stay put. But a lower price point doesn’t make his fit on the win-now Bulls any cleaner. Patrick Williams and Thaddeus Young are better options to play alongisde (or independent of) Vucevic.
Thaddeus Young has started all but one game since the Bulls blockbuster deal for Vucevic, the first game after the trade deadline, in which Markkanen put up just 10 points on four-of-10 shooting.
He’s since been replaced by Chicago’s former sixth man, with rookie Patrick Williams holding a firm grip on his status as starting small forward. Markanen’s lone other start since came in absence of Zach LaVine.
Most would read that as writing on the wall.
Names to Watch
For the Chicago Bulls and Lauri Markkanen to not come to terms on a new deal, twice mind you, it’s directly indicative of the front office having other plans for their cap space.
Most know about the Lonzo Ball saga, and it’s not over yet. The 23-year old point guard will too be a restricted free agent, and you can expect the Bulls to put together a lucrative offer sheet.
Ball has been under the scope of this front office since December, if not prior. He’ll undoubtedly headline any white board or agenda that’s designated for their 2021 free agency plans.
Other names to watch could include guys like DeMar DeRozan, who’s having yet another career-season with the San Antonio Spurs. Would he take an inflated one-year deal? Or is he looking for something longterm?
Would one of Kyle Lowry or Goran Dragic take an interest in playing for the Bulls? Any upgrade at point guard, with a full offseason and training camp together makes this Chicago team a lock for playoffs.
Don’t rule out a Spencer Dinwiddie return either. He was a name mentioned ahead of the trade deadline.