Billy Donovan: ‘Highly Unlikely’ Bulls Youth Returns Before All-Star Break

Lauri Markkanen

Getty Lauri Markkanen defended by Julius Randle in a February 3 game against the New York Knicks.

Fourth-year forward Lauri Markkanen was having a career season before suffering a shoulder sprain in the Chicago Bulls‘ February 5th win over the Orlando Magic. It appears unlikely he’ll make a return before the All-Star break in March.

That’s per head coach Billy Donovan, who spoke with reporters (via NBC Sports) on Wednesday:

He makes progress, but he has not done anything contact-wise, he’s done nothing that at this point in time would show us that he’s going to be back within the next week. Could it happen? Sure. Do I feel like it’s likely it’s going to happen? Probably not.

Markkannen was averaging a career-high 19.1 points and 6.1 rebounds through 14 games this season. He was also burying his 7.2 three-point attempts per game at a 39 percent clip.

It’s a loss that ultimately won’t mean much for the Chicago Bulls and their aims for a playoff berth in the short term.

Because of that, Markkanen and the team are more likely to play it safe, and hold off until after the All-Star break to plan a return. Donovan alluded to that much throughout the rest of his response:

The biggest challenge I think for Lauri right now is because of the injury, if he reinjures it or hurts it again relatively quickly on his return, it’s going to put him back to ground zero again. So, he’s working with the medical staff and he’s doing what he can physically to keep himself in condition.

The Bulls will play four more games before the All-Star break, likely all without their best three-point shooter.

Is a Lauri Markkanen Trade Off the Table?

To throw an additional wrench into things, Markkanen was one of Chicago’s more discussed trade chips until recently. The forward is only 23 years old and has yet to sign an extension to remain with the Bulls beyond this season. If that holds, he’ll be headed for restricted free agency in the offseason.

Similar to veteran forward Thaddeus Young, at some point the front office will have to make a decision. They can trade him by the deadline for a (likely) smaller package, or risk letting him sign a monster offer sheet down the road. If they know his time in Chicago has come to an end, the latter makes little sense.

On the other hand, it’s hard to see any team giving up more than a second-round pick or two for Markkanen, given that they too will have to play the offer sheet game come the offseason.

Could This All Play Out in Chicago’s Favor?

The complexities of the situation aside, is it possible that the Bulls could benefit from this?

If teams don’t end up engaging Chicago in trade talks for Markkanen maybe that proves indicative of the market he can expect in restricted free agency.

So maybe the Bulls and Lauri’s agent reconvene after the season? The numbers would probably look a good bit different, but the money is there and Markkanen would be wise to take it. Few guys have come out the winners (at least in a financial aspect) in any situation where they opted to gamble on themselves and turn down a big deal.

Looking at you, Nerlens Noel.

Should Markkanen opt to sign his $9-million qualifying offer and play out the season in Chicago, it’s likely the Bulls would be able to get a better return at next year’s deadline should he play out the year healthy.

The Chicago Bulls have got a number of things to look at before this year’s trade deadline. And now, they’re going to have to make a decision on Lauri Markkanen’s future without having seen him play since February third.

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