The forward said he is not dwelling on if he’ll be back with the Bulls next season or he’ll be elsewhere, but the restricted free agent did make it very clear that he sees himself as a starter in this league and wants to return to that role.
Lauri Markkanen will have plenty of time to think about his future, especially if the Bulls continue fading away from the play-in game and their season is wrapped up in a depressing black bow with wilted flowers alongside it come May 16.
That’s when the restricted free agent can start figuring out if he’s played his last game for the organization that acquired his draft rights in the Jimmy Butler 2017 trade, and inaugurated Markkanen the future pillar of the franchise.
“Nah, I haven’t thought about that at all,’’ Markkanen said on Monday. “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.’’
What Markkanen would like to control is what role he will play next season, whether that’s with the Bulls or elsewhere if the Bulls opt to not match what the market sets for him this summer.
A starter when healthy until this season, Markkanen has always maintained that he saw himself as a starter, despite losing that spot after the All-Star Break.
So wherever he signs, he wants it to be clear that he sees himself in that first unit.
“I still feel that way,’’ Markkanen said. “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.’’
The Sun-Times reported that Bulls were talking about moving Markkanen at the Mar. 25 trade deadline, but did not get offers they felt were worth the value, and also felt like with the additions they made to the frontcourt – specifically Nikola Vucevic and Daniel Theis – keeping Markkanen with that second unit would only help the playoff push they felt the new-look roster would make.
Obviously, very little has gone as expected.
With limited practice time because of the condensed schedule, the roster never found a rhythm. As for Markkanen, his inconsistencies were only magnified, as he seemingly disappeared for long stints in his new role.
“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 of his season. “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.’’
Good and bad moments that could be ending with the Bulls very soon.