Lauri Markkanen delivered an ultimatum to the Chicago Bulls on Monday — start him, or he walks.
Markkanen, who enters restricted free agency on May 16 if the Bulls continue to fade from the play-in game picture, told Chicago Sun-Times reporter Joe Cowley while he’s focused on helping Chicago make a run at the postseason in a supplementary role since All-Star Nikola Vucevic entered the fold at the All-Star Break, Markkanen sees himself as a starter in the NBA.
“I said it back when my role changed; I went on the second unit. I said that then and I still stand by it. I understand the situation right now, and like I said, I’m not thinking about the future, even if it’s whatever exit meeting whenever that is, but I’m not thinking about that. Just going day-by-day, and I still believe I’m a starter and nothing has changed in that way,” Markkanen said, per Cowley.
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Bulls Attempted to Trade Markkanen at Trade Deadline
The Sun-Times reported that the Bulls had Markkanen on the market at the trade deadline but did not receive any offers they thought were worth his value to the team. Considering the additions of Vucevic and Daniel Theis, Chicago felt relegating Markkanen to the second unit would bolster the Bulls’ rotation, Cowley reported.
Markkanen never hit his stride in a pivotal season for his future with the team. Starting the season on the COVID-19 reserve list, dealing with injuries and never settling in with a routine practice schedule, Markkanen’s inconsistencies have become exasperated in 2021.
“Start of the season I got the Covid thing so I couldn’t play, and then I felt like I was playing well for whatever, a month-and-a-half period before I got hurt (shoulder), kind of found my rhythm there, and then you sit out,” Markkanen said, per Cowley. “And then we got a little bit different team now and playing the three, so it’s been a lot of new stuff, but like every year you have your good moments and you have your bad stuff happening.”
Despite Markkanen’s struggles this season, he attests he hasn’t thrown in the towel this season and begun focusing on his free-agency period.
“Nah, I haven’t thought about that at all,” Markkanen said. “I let all that kind of stuff happen its own way after the season. I can’t focus on that. Just try and make this play-in spot and that’s my focus right now. Like I said, I’m going to give it all I have and I’m not thinking about the future right now. I can’t control that, so I don’t know.’’
Markkanen’s Statistical Decline
The former 2017 first-round pick has struggled to find his form in the 2021 season and a decline in minutes has only added to the issue.
Since March 29, when he was moved to the bench, Markkanen has averaged 10.1 points per game. He went through a stretch in April where he scored in single-digits in six of seven games, including his first scoreless performance in his career against the Memphis Grizzlies.
While Markkanen’s ratings haven’t seen a significant dip, the lack of urgency from the former No. 7 overall pick is of concern and a red flag that he may have already checked out regardless of what he says.
Unless the Bulls have a change of strategy and heart, it’s unexpected that Markannen is viewed as a starter in 2022 in Chicago. The San Antonio Spurs are among a field of teams expected to make an offer for him this offseason.