The combination of Lauri Markkanen and Nikola Vucevic has not played out well for the Chicago Bulls.
In 91 minutes played, the duo has produced a -15.1 net rating as both offensive-minded bigs have not performed well on defense.
The Bulls have relegated Markkanen to a bench role since Vucevic’s arrival — one the 7-footer may have the opportunity to ditch when he reaches restricted free agency this offseason.
Markkanen’s asking price has not waned with his decline in production since his 2017 rookie season as the former No. 7 overall pick and the Bulls were roughly $4 million apart, per NBC Sports Chicago, on a contract extension this season.
However, there is a team that is expected to make a “strong offer” for the soon-to-be 24-year-old, Bleacher Report’s A Sherrod Blakely wrote.
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Spurs Expected to Make ‘Strong Offer’ for Markkanen
Blakely reported that while the “pool of teams that will have the salary-cap space to make a run at Markkanen is limited… multiple executives and scouts anticipate the San Antonio Spurs will make a strong offer this summer.”
The Spurs, expected to be in a rebuilding year after moving on from LaMarcus Aldridge, instead find themselves a game out of the Western Conference playoffs as of Thursday.
While coach Billy Donovan has touted that despite Markkanen and Coby White’s decline in minutes, they remain key pieces to the team.
“They’re probably not going to be featured guys; just calling it like it is,” Donovan said last week, per NBC Sports Chicago. “But they’re very important pieces to our team, and we need them to play at a high level.”
It remains to be seen if Markkanen would be willing to take a pay cut in taking a long-term reserve role with the team after seeing his involvement decline from 30.0 minutes per game to 22.4 minutes per game since Vucevic’s arrival.
NBA executives are bullish that he could be of more value elsewhere, per Blakely.
“In the right kind of system, Markkanen could be a really good player,” an Eastern Conference executive told Blakely. “I don’t know if Chicago is it; it’s certainly not it if they think him and Vucevic can play together.”
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Vucevic Could Be the Key to Keeping Markkanen?
Between not reaching an agreement on a contract extension and the arrival of Vucevic, it seems Markkanen is destined to leave Chicago.
However, if the Bulls can quickly establish a culture of winning on the fly the remainder of this season, that may be enough for Markkanen to cement himself as a reserve player behind Vucevic and lead a bolstering second unit for the Bulls.
The same money versus success dilemma many young players undergo faces Zach LaVine. Chicago sent both young Bulls stars a message by making a splash at the trade deadline.
“That’s why them getting Vooch was a really big deal,” the Eastern Conference executive said, via Blakely. “Players want to get paid, just like we all do. But they also want to win, and guys like Zach have been around the block long enough to know they can’t win in this league by themselves. LeBron’s the best to do it, and he couldn’t win it all by himself. Even he needed help.”