Off the Mark? Bulls must decide whether to move on from forward Lauri Markkanenon May 22, 2021 at 12:00 pm

Bulls forward Lauri Markkanen has four NBA seasons on his resume.

He has shown an ability to score from outside, attack the rim and even make midrange shots. Perhaps he hasn’t shown it as consistently as expected, but he has shown it. There’s no question he has weapons opposing teams have to game-plan for.

And no one in the league has defended Markkanen, who will be a restricted free agent this offseason, harder than Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas. He did so before the season started, after the trade deadline, then again after the regular season ended this week.

”I’ve got limited stuff that I can obviously be permitted to comment on regarding that, but I thought Lauri had a good year,” Karnisovas said. ”I thought he was more efficient. He’s a 40% three-point shooter. You know shooting comes at a premium in our league, and I think Lauri is an essential part of our team. We hope he is a part of what we’re building here, so I’m looking forward to free agency and talking to his representation.”

Karnisovas wasn’t lying, but he left out a few numbers. And important ones, at that.

Yes, Markkanen did shoot a career-best 40% from three-point range, but he also averaged a career-low 13.6 points, grabbed a career-low 5.3 rebounds, handed out a career-low 0.9 assists and, for the third time in his career, failed to play in more than 53 games.

So was Karnisovas, who has a growing reputation of displaying the ultimate poker face, saying what he’s supposed to say at this time of year regarding his players’ futures, or was he letting the rest of the league know he has a strong hand and intends to use it if called?

This summer will answer that, with the Bulls able to match any offer Markkanen receives.

The talent pool in the 2021 free-agent class was supposed to be historic. Organizations started lining up their salary caps to take advantage of it as early as two years ago. Then big names started re-signing with their teams.

There’s still money to be spent, however, and restricted free agents such as Markkanen and Pelicans guard Lonzo Ball are about to benefit from that.

Two weeks ago, Markkanen said he’s looking to sign with a team that values him as a starter. The Bulls no longer are that team. They have a pair of All-Stars in guard Zach LaVine and center Nikola Vucevic, and Markkanen (even with a small sample size in the case of Vucevic) hasn’t shown an ability to play effectively alongside either for extended minutes.

So where might Markkanen end up? The one place he privately wants to land is with the Mavericks, joining guard Luka Doncic and big man Kristaps Porzingis. The Mavericks will have serious cap room this offseason and were in the middle of the pack in three-point shooting, but Markkanen and Porzingis might be too similar in terms of their skills for that to happen.

So which other team might be interested in Markkanen? Keep an eye on the Knicks, who will have the most cap room of any team and can use more shooting.

Yes, Karnisovas will have the final say on Markkanen and his future. But, ”essential” or not, some pieces just don’t fit and are no longer worth the price.

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