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NBA trade rumors: Bulls ‘listening’ on Lauri Markkanen offers

Markkanen is set to hit restricted free agency this summer

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NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Chicago Bulls Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

This isn’t so much a new rumor as it is the strengthening of an existing one.

Shams Charania of The Athletic, today, with sauces saying “teams have expressed interest” in Lauri Markkanen, and “Chicago is listening to potential suitors”

The reason to take this more seriously is in both the wording and the messenger. Brian Windhorst and Zach Lowe of ESPN both brought up the likelihood of a Markannen trade recently, but it was phrased in a way that seemed less active.

Plus, while Shams is an unethical Tweeter, he is well-sourced. Especially when it comes to the Bulls. Beyond The Athletic, Shams also works for ‘dorf-owned Stadium in Chicago. Specifically for this year, and with Markkanen, Shams had first scoop of the Bulls not coming to an extension agreement, and Lauri’s shoulder injury diagnosis.

There is no mention of what return the Bulls are looking for, whether Lauri is to be moved for spare assets or part of a larger trade package getting a better player in return (like Lonzo Ball). I haven’t seen any mention of interest from contenders thinking Lauri would be a good plug-and-play rotation option in the playoffs (because he likely wouldn’t be).

Shams does what they do in that report, talking about Markkanen’s great season and how ‘sought-after’ he’ll be when he hits restricted free agency this summer. A more accurate assessment is that while Markkanen has shot the ball better this year, he hasn’t grown as a player to warrant ‘keeper’ status and a huge contract extension. In games since his return from that shoulder injury and though being surrounded by better players in the great lineup shift of 2021, Lauri’s dropped to 15.3 PPG on 56% True Shooting. He’s 7-23 from distance in the last four games.

Lauri’s season, and I suppose Bulls career, perhaps reached it’s nadir last night, playing less than 19 minutes.

Markkanen made his first bucket, an impressive drive and finish over Gobert. Then, he missed his next nine shots — seven from 2-point range and two from 3. He checked out at the 8:07 mark of the third quarter and didn’t return until the 7:21 mark of the fourth — nearly a 13-minute spell on the sidelines — with the Bulls trailing by 20 points.

Luckily I don’t think Lauri’s trade value dropped much due to this, just like it didn’t rise much in his hot-shooting start to the season.

His value dropping is because he is due to hit restricted free agency this summer. Talks before the season stalled with a $4M starting salary gap between Lauri’s asking price and the Bulls offer. We don’t know what that absolute starting salary was going to be, but you’d have to think any team that gives up something significant for Lauri is also committing to paying him nearly $20M a season over the next four years.

Or it won’t be anything significant traded for Lauri at all, because a team knows the Bulls don’t want to pay that and they wouldn’t either. That’s the risk in having an ‘evaluation season’, sometimes you learn just enough the other way.