Bulls Rumors: Former Top 10 Pick Linked to Title Contender

Chicago Bulls

Getty Lauri Markkanen #24 celebrates after scoring a basket.

There will always be some level of “what if?” when it comes to former Chicago Bulls forward Lauri Markkanen. The Bulls were seemingly in store for a front-row seat to his continued development when they traded him to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Markannen landed a four-year deal with the Cavs worth $67 million in what was a three-team sign-and-trade bringing Derrick Jones Jr. to Chicago.

Then the Cavs deployed Markkanen at small forward.

That wrinkle in the big man’s utilization immediately raised his potential ceiling and further threatened to make the Bulls look bad for essentially giving him away. Markkanen was traded to the Utah Jazz this summer. But an injury to Boston Celtics offseason acquisition Danilo Gallinari could bring Marrkanen back to the Eastern Conference.

Markannen Fit to Replace Gallinari

“After an underwhelming start to his career in Cleveland following a four-year deal inked last season,” writes Brian Robb for MassLive.com, “he was part of the Donovan Mitchell blockbuster last week. Markkanen is a younger, better version of Gallinari at age 25.”

They are certainly comparable, per Basketball-Reference.

1 Danilo Gallinari 2009 2013 285 247 31.3 .369 .504 4.7 1.9 0.9 0.5 1.4 2.1 14.5
2 Lauri Markkanen 2018 2022 282 256 29.7 .364 .531 6.8 1.3 0.7 0.5 1.3 1.9 15.4

Markkanen is also nine years younger and two inches taller than Gallinari. Those things would seem to make him a sensible fit for a Boston team that was two wins from the title.

They are favorites to represent the East again but there is a major snag in any potential deal.

“His sizable contract makes him a far less appealing piece for Boston. The Celtics would need to give up a major piece (Derrick White?) in order to make the money work here and that’s not a likely path they would take.”

Robb has previously reported that the Celtics were unlikely to pursue a veteran such as Carmelo Anthony to make up for Gallinari’s absence.

Markkanen was Happy to Leave Chicago

It’s not as though Markannen was sad to be leaving Chicago. As he told NBC Sports Chicago’s K.C. Johnson following that trade, he felt he needed a “fresh start” after a “mentally tough” last two years with the Bulls.

That’s not to say he did not enjoy parts of his time in the city, particularly with the fans. But he felt there was more to his game.

“I don’t think I’ve hit close to my ceiling yet,” Markkanen told Johnson before later saying, “I think I had good moments as a player, and I had some inconsistencies. But I’m looking ahead.”

Small forward is not ideal for Markkanen in every situation. But the Cavs did sport a plus-3.5 net rating in his minutes there, per Cleaning the Glass. They had the same rating when he was in his natural position of power forward.

The Bulls sparsely used “The Finnisher” at the 3-spot and only in his final season in Chicago.

They got positive results out of it. But they could never coax one out of him at power forward leading them to experiment in the first place.

Bulls Old Players Learned New Habits

Many will chide the Bulls for moving on from players such as Markkanen or Wendell Carter Jr. who signed a four-year, $50 million with the Orlando Magic after being traded for Nikola Vucevic.

But it is not uncommon for players to underperform relative to expectations – both Carter and Markkanen were drafted seventh overall in their respective drafts.

A change of scenery can often do players a lot of good in that regard.

And, if nothing else, Markkanen was rewarded handsomely after his time in Chicago which he still says he’s “really happy” he got to do.

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