Nothing about this season has been easy for the Chicago Bulls, which correlates directly with their decision to go all in on deals at the trade deadline.
The team has utilized three of the five faces they brought in on March 25: Daniel Theis, Nikola Vucevic, and Troy Brown Jr. But those three’s arrival has made for a rough integration period for the Bulls.
Lauri Markkanen is no exception.
And it may lead to his fourth season in Chicago being his last.
The latest Bulls news straight to your inbox! Join the Heavy on Bulls newsletter here!
Join Heavy on Bulls!
Markkanen Rebounds Against Cavaliers
After a strong performance in the Chicago Bulls’ latest win over Cleveland, Markkanen spoke with reporters (via NBC Sports) about his challenges this season.
The 23-year old forward had 16 points and six rebounds on Saturday, his first game with double-figure points since an April 8 win over the Toronto Raptors.
His breakout performance earned him floor time for the final stretch. Head coach Billy Donovan opted for Markkanen over defense-first big Daniel Theis for the game’s last four minutes.
It was a sign of confidence from the Bulls head coach, and an appreciated one:
As a competitor, you always want to be out there. First of all, to actually have a close game, that feels good. And just being out there, it’s a great feeling to be with the guys and be in.
Markkanen rewarded Donovan’s decision by knocking down his third three-pointer of the night to give Chicago a six-point lead with three minutes remaining. Coby White assisted.
After starting his first 24 games available this year, Markkanen was benched in favor of a new, post-trade deadline starting lineup. It’s been an adjustment period for the fourth-year forward.
Donovan praised his readiness after the game:
Whatever Lauri’s minutes are, whether it’s 15 or 27 (Saturday), what kind of impact does he make where he’s saying, ‘You know what, they’re going to have to keep me on the floor. I do too much. I rebound. I run the floor. I defend. I protect the rim. If I’m not shooting, I do other things.’ I think this is part of their growth and development. I think Lauri is a very talented and gifted player with a lot of length and size. There’s a lot he can do in the game just besides being a stretch-shooting guy. There have been plenty of guys like him in the league that are very one-dimensional. And he’s young enough right now that I don’t think he wants to be put in a box for himself or his career where he’s just a catch-and-shoot guy.
He’s not wrong. Markkanen has been incredibly vocal about his desires to be a starter. But he has yet to let his aspirations affect the team negatively:
It was frustrating to lose (my starting job), not being out there and closing out games. But I always say, control what you can control. That’s what I’m trying to do.
Maybe Saturday’s win is the start of him getting back to that.
But his future with the Chicago Bulls may depend on it.
Markkanen is Headed for Free Agency
One of the more discussed storylines surrounding the Chicago Bulls this season has been Lauri Markkanen’s pending restricted free agency.
Once the December deadline passed and no extension was agreed on to keep him in the Windy City, rumors began swirling around potential suitors both at the trade deadline and the upcoming offseason.
Any of the NBA’s other 29 teams can come calling with an offer sheet prepared, but Markkanen will remain a Bull until Chicago declines to match said offer sheet.
So far, even in light of their trade deadline splurge, it’s unclear where the team stands on the forward’s future.
The latest rumblings around Markkanen involve the San Antonio Spurs, who could be a suitor for his services this offseason per Bleacher Report’s A. Sherrod Blakely.
With his free agent status cemented, expect rumors to continue surfacing surrounding Lauri Markkanen. His and the Chicago Bulls’ future together could be determined in the season’s final stretch.
READ NEXT: Billy Donovan Reveals Team’s Plans for Pending Free Agent