Bulls mailbag: Is Lauri Markkanen a long-term fit? Most underrated Bull?

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K.C. Johnson
·9 min read
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Bulls mailbag: Markkanen a long-term fit? Trade possibilities? originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Andre Drummond and Lonzo Ball questions abound, so is it March or February? Oh wait. You’re asking the questions around here.

Is Andre Drummond the type of center the new regime desires or is Wendell Carter Jr. the long-term answer in their eyes? Is Carter a center in this league? If his 3-pointer develops to be 35 percent-plus, is he a better power forward than Lauri Markkanen? Lauri has matured offensively, but his defense is lacking due to slow feet. --- Hugh O.D.

The scuttlebutt around the league is that Drummond is headed for a buyout and will sign with a contender for the remainder of the season. I don’t see him as a free-agency target for this regime.

I also don’t see Carter developing into a 35 percent 3-point shooter, which is why I’ve always focused on him more as a center. He may be undersized, but his defensive instincts and length still provide rim protection. And he has done a better job of staying out of foul trouble this season.

Is Lauri Markkanen on the trade block? If he's not, then who from the Bulls not named Zach LaVine is on there? --- Gio A.

Management offered Markkanen a long-term extension before the season, albeit at a number of its choosing. It seems clear the philosophy moving forward is to let next summer’s restricted free agent market set the price on Markkanen and then determine if he’s a long-term fit moving forward based on what that number is.

But the job of any executive is to have dialogue with all teams on any player. I mean, Jerry Krause almost traded Scottie Pippen twice. It’s what executives do. As has been previously stated here, the only player tied to this regime is its first draft pick, Patrick Williams. That said, the sense around the league from the people I talk to is that it would take a monumental offer to acquire LaVine from the Bulls. As in: Yes, you listen if there’s interest. But LaVine is having an incredible season. Management sees that.

What are your thoughts on the Bulls not signing Markkanen to an extension? Also, can we see the Bulls making any trade over before the deadline? --- Ruben B.

Well, they tried. But management set a number it was comfortable at and tabled it when the two sides were roughly $4 million apart on the first season of a long-term deal. That’s certainly their right. At the time, I wrote a column detailing the inherent risks involved in not reaching an extension. Namely, that with a free-agent class drying up and plenty of teams projected to own ample salary-cap space, the restricted free agent market could be lucrative.

But I always say: I’m a beat writer. I would be a terrible GM. Given that Markkanen has again suffered a freak and unfortunate injury, who’s to say what his value will be next summer? He certainly was off to a very strong start offensively. Either way, the Bulls own the right to match any offer sheet he may receive. You can understand why management took the stance it did.

As for whether or not the Bulls make any trades, I’m going to be most focused on Thad Young. He certainly will be in demand. Now, he’s too valuable to trade him just to trade him. But if the right offer presents itself, I don’t think you can lose sight of the big picture -- which is building up assets for a young team -- just to experience mild short-term success.

That said, making the playoffs certainly would provide for valuable experience for some of the Bulls’ young players. And Young’s play, which has been at such a high level and fun to watch, would be instrumental in making that happen. So stay tuned.

The Lonzo Ball-to-the-Bulls rumors are heating up again. I like his fit from a basketball perspective. He’s the pass-first orchestrator the team needs. And his size lets him start with Zach LaVine and Coby White. But why would AKME want to trade for a guy now that we could go after in RFA? Or worse, why trade for a guy who you could lose for nothing if another team comes in with a crazy offer sheet? --- Nick P.

For starters, you only make that deal if you have worked back channels to know you’ll reach an extension this offseason. And I do think Ball fits. Although at this point, any true point guard would fit. (That’s not Coby White hate! He’s young and developing and a nice piece to have. I just don’t think he’s a true point guard.)

But I’m with you: Why give up an asset for someone you could pursue yourself in restricted free agency this summer? There also will be other point guard possibilities this offseason, including in the draft.

Do you have any insight on what AK/Marc/Billy view as Patrick Williams’ future positionally? I know that modern basketball is moving towards position-less play. But I have loved the lineups with Pat at the 4 and just one true big. --- Sean

Those have worked. And ultimately, I think Williams is more of a power forward than a small forward. But you’re right: He can play in any lineup because of modern basketball’s trend toward postionless play and his defensive versatility. When we’ve asked management, Donovan and even Williams about his position, each has said something along the lines of “he’s a basketball player.” So there you go.

Who are the five core players they’ll build around and how soon will they deal the rest? --- Irv K.

Two seasons after John Paxson took over for Krause, only Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry remained from the team he inherited. Soon thereafter, both of those players were traded.

Translated: This roster will look significantly different in two to three seasons. If I had to guess, I’d say Williams, LaVine, White and one of Carter/Markkanen will still be here.

I think this season is proving clearly that Zach LaVine has to be a core piece of this organization moving forward as it continues on the path of building a championship contender. That being said, what can you see this front office potentially doing this coming offseason to start to slowly build that contender? Are there any potential big moves on the horizon? A lot of the big-name free agents have come off the board, so I was wondering what exactly could even be done. ---Elbron O.

Continue to hit on draft picks. Early returns on Williams suggest management is 1-for-1 in that department.

Use salary cap space wisely. Even if you don’t land a superstar this offseason, you can improve the roster and build up assets to make it attractive for future possibilities and/or in a better position to trade for a star.

Here’s one thing you consistently hear about Artūras Karnišovas from people who have known him a long time: He has a strong vision for how he wants to build a team. I’d look for that to start taking shape this offseason.

Who is the most underrated Bulls player you have covered in your career? It could be skill-based or impact on/off the court. --- Matthew A.

Arbitrarily, I set 200 games played as my minimum. There are 68 players in franchise history who have played that many. Coincidentally, Dennis Rodman missed by one.

This is obviously completely subjective, but I narrowed my choices down to Carlos Boozer, Robin Lopez and Jud Buechler. I’m not overlooking Andres Nocioni or Taj Gibson because I feel they always received proper love. I’d also probably throw B.J. Armstrong in this conversation, but I didn’t cover the first three-peat team.

Boozer to me always suffered from the perception of being the consolation prize to not landing the Big Three that went to Miami. But he was a relentlessly positive teammate, durable once he got past his rocky start of tripping over a gym bag and breaking his hand, and while Tom Thibodeau didn’t always close with him because of defense, Thibodeau appreciated him.

I’d probably go with Lopez. I know people appreciated him, but I still think he was underrated. His screen-setting ability, boxing out and no-nonsense, team-first attitude really uplifted some tough times. Plus, he was funny as hell.

Not including anyone who played on any of the Bulls championship teams, who would be your top-two Bulls players per position beginning with the 1998-99 to the present? (Ex. Toni Kukoc can't be included since he played on the championship teams).  Each player must have played at least one year minimum with the Bulls.  When creating this team, on court chemistry does not factor in.  Here are my choices:

5- Joakim Noah/Pau Gasol

4- Elton Brand/Taj Gibson

3-Jimmy Butler/Luol Deng

2-Zach LaVine/Ben Gordon

1-Derrick Rose/Kirk Hinrich

Close omissions for second at their positions: Boozer, Chandler, Mirotic, and Nocioni.    ---Jay E.

I enjoy stuff like this. I think you’re close on most all of these. I’d probably skew towards placing Deng over Butler. That's mostly because of longevity, but also a little bit of personal preference because Deng played on that 2004-05 team that was one of the most formative experiences of my career and also lifted the franchise out of malaise. Butler probably ultimately will have the more dynamic career. But Deng was so, so solid for so long and then obviously maxed it out with two All-Star appearances while playing for Tom Thibodeau.

The only other quibble is the power forward position. Brand averaged a double-double in both of his seasons, including as a rookie, which is insane and why he shared Rookie of the Year with Steve Francis. But he was only with the Bulls for two seasons. Does Boozer’s longevity on really, really good teams place him at No. 1 and bump Brand to No. 2 and Gibson to No. 3? It’s a fun debate.

Thanks for all the questions. Talk to you soon.

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