Chicago Bulls: Not extending Lauri Markkanen the right move now

Lauri Markkanen, Chicago Bulls Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports
Lauri Markkanen, Chicago Bulls Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports /

Arturas Karnisovas and the Chicago Bulls looked like they made the right move entering the 2020-21 season by not extending power forward Lauri Markkanen.

The final day for the Chicago Bulls to hand out rookie contract extensions arrived on Dec. 21. And by far the most notable contract extension discussion that the Bulls faced entering this week concerned fourth-year seven-footer and former Arizona Wildcats power forward Lauri Markkanen.

The Bulls reportedly (per Michael Scotto on Twitter on the evening of Dec. 21) will not be able to reach an extension with Markkanen heading into the 2020-21 regular season. That is not surprising given that it didn’t sound like extension talks were going well between the Bulls front office and Markkanen of late.

Newly hired executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas recently made it known that he wanted to guy into Markkanen for this Bulls rebuild over the long haul. But obviously Markkanen has to prove his value for this Bulls rebuild in its fourth year before Karnisovas and general manager Marc Eversley are willing to hand out a sizable contract extension.

The qualifying offer for Markkanen heading into next offseason will be set at $9 million. And it’s very likely that he will be a premier player hitting the restricted free agent market at that time. The gifted physical tools and valuable modern skill set he brings to the table as a stretch power forward will likely make him a highly sought after commodity in the next cycle of free agency.

It goes without saying that if Markkanen proves to be an integral part of this starting five for the Bulls during the 2020-21 season that Karnisovas is going to do everything he can to bring Markkanen back for the 2021-22 season.

Just because Markkanen and the Bulls didn’t reach an agreement on a contract extension this year doesn’t mean that he won’t be back heading into the 2021-22 season.

The problem for the Bulls was the shaky play and overall step back that Markkanen took last season. When he was supposed to make leaps and bounds heading into his third year in the NBA, Markkanen had his least efficient season to date.

During the shortened 2019-20 regular season, Markkanen played in 50 games for the Bulls (all of which he started in). And he averaged 14.7 points per game, 6.3 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.8 steals, and 0.5 blocks. Markkanen shot 42.5 percent from the field, 34.4 percent from beyond the arc, and 82.4 percent from the free-throw line.

Basketball-Reference projects Markkanen to average 19.1 points per 36 minutes, 8.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.9 steals, and 0.6 blocks, during the 2020-21 season. And he’s projected to shoot 43.9 percent from the field, 36.1 percent from beyond the arc, and 84.4 percent from the free-throw line.

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Markkanen and the Bulls are set to tip off the 2020-21 regular season slate on Dec. 23 at home at the United Center against the Atlanta Hawks. They finished up their four game preseason slate with a record of 3-1, with two wins on the road over the Oklahoma City Thunder and one at home over the Houston Rockets.