Nothing about the Chicago Bulls’ future is set in stone, but with each day that passes, it’s looking less and less likely that Lauri Markkanen will be around for it.
The 23-year old forward has had as up-and-down a year as you can have in the NBA. He’s gone from starter to trade chip, to bench player, back to starter, and now situational role player.
Chicago’s decision not to trade him at the deadline was an interesting one but may speak to his overall value around the NBA at that time. Markkanen’s averaging 14.3 points, and 5.3 rebounds per game.
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Markkanen to San Antonio?
One of the few consistencies among any and all rumors regarding Lauri Markkanen has been the San Antonio Spurs, lurking as a silent interested party.
Bleacher Report’s A. Sherrod Blakely reported on their interest earlier this month:
The pool of teams that will have the salary-cap space to make a run at Markkanen is limited, but multiple executives and scouts anticipate the San Antonio Spurs will make a strong offer this summer.
One of Blakeley’s colleagues at Bleacher Report, Greg Swartz, listed Markkanen as a Spurs offseason target just last week, citing his floor spacing and projected value:
Markkanen wouldn’t cost as much as Collins and keeps the floor spread for guys like Dejounte Murray, Derrick White and Keldon Johnson.
How often is there not a fire beneath the smoke?
In other words, it’s safe to assume that someone close to or within the San Antonio Spurs organization has got an eye for Lauri Markkanen.
But would the Chicago Bulls just let him walk for nothing?
Bulls Want Value for Lauri
As much as the Chicago Bulls not trading Lauri Markkanen may imply a desire to keep him around, it also likely indicates an unwillingness to let him walk for free.
They may not have a choice, however.
As Markkanen is a restricted free agent, the only way to now keep him in-house is to match an offer sheet he signs from another team.
Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic reported on Tuesday that fans shouldn’t rule that out as a possibility:
For starters, don’t rule out the possibility of the Bulls matching a somewhat overpriced offer sheet. Outside observers could have initial sticker shock but, remember, the BUlls always can trade the contract later. It could be a crucial play for the team to keep in its back pocket.
Because the Bulls traded for Nikola Vucevic and added a second All-Star, their room to operate as far as roster improvement isn’t as wide as it was prior:
Whether this summer or down the line, Markkanen, in theory, gives the Bulls an attractive trade chip, one of few avenues the franchise will have to further improve.
Mayberry’s right, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see this kind of maneuver from Arturas Karnisovas, who’s already surprised fans with his bold plays to improve Chicago’s roster.
But if the Bulls aren’t looking to retain Markkanen, there may not be a better time to capitalize on his value as a trade piece than the upcoming 2021 NBA Draft.
San Antonio, Chicago Trade Proposal
Knowing that the San Antonio Spurs may have interest in Lauri Markkanen, or are willing and likely to present him with an offer sheet, could they come to terms with Chicago on a sign-and-trade?
It would take the forward’s consent as well, which right now, may be unlikely given the nature of his situation.
But if there was a deal to be made, could the Bulls get the Spurs’ first-round pick in return? It’s currently slated to be the final in the lottery, at 14th overall.
With so much blossoming youth already in San Antonio, it’s not overzealous to think they could look to part ways with the draft pick in exchange for a more established prospect.
And in a down year for Markkanen, they may be able to lock him into a team-friendly deal.
That being said, the framework of a potential trade:
San Antonio Spurs receive:
- Lauri Markkanen (sign-and-trade, four-years $60-million)
- 2021 second-round pick via the Chicago Bulls
Chicago Bulls receive:
- 14th overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft
- Lonnie Walker IV
Chicago wouldn’t have to take back nearly any matching salary, as the Spurs will be one of few teams with cap space to spare this offseason, and in a market that’s deprived of star talent mind you.
So the Bulls find a way to make something out of (essentially) nothing, recouping a first-round pick, and drafting a prospect that will be under team control at a reasonable price for years to come.
Walker IV is a throw-in, but with one year left on his deal, would need to show something in the Windy City.
Outside of some flashy dunks and the occasional inferno shooting display, he’s been largely inconsistent in San Antonio. He’s averaging 7.6 points and 2.2 rebounds in three years with the Spurs.