Chicago Bulls: Lauri Markkanen remains ‘important’ to the core

Once the All-Star Break has concluded, what looks to be about the most important topic around the NBA landscape will be the looming March 25 trade deadline. With the trade deadline now a little less than one full month away, the Chicago Bulls and first-year executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas and general manager Marc Eversley might have a lot of decisions to make in the very near future.

The Bulls are truly one of the more challenging teams to figure out around the league right now, given the inconsistent nature of their season to date. First-year head coach Billy Donovan and the Bulls currently sport a record of 15-17, following their home loss to the Phoenix Suns at the United Center by the final score of 106-97 on Feb. 26.

That loss to the Suns snapped a three-game winning streak for Donovan and the Bulls. But it also further muddied the waters in the discussion of figuring out what his next for this Bulls team just ahead of the All-Star Break.

One player that has a very murky future with the Bulls heading into the trade deadline is fourth-year seven-footer and 23-year-old power forward Lauri Markkanen. This Bulls big man was having a solid season before his latest injury problem, which was to his shoulder a few weeks back.

The last game that Markkanen played in for the Bulls came back on Feb. 5, in a road loss to the Orlando Magic. And since he’s been absent and third-year center Wendell Carter Jr. returned to the rotation, the Bulls are playing very well.

That aforementioned three-game winning streak the Bulls held prior to the Feb. 26 loss to the Suns was part of a really hot stretch of play for this team. The Bulls had also won five of their last six prior to the loss to veteran star point guard Chris Paul and the Suns.

The question was brought about frequently of late: are the Bulls better off without Markkanen in the lineup?

While that question seemed ludacrous at the outset of the season, and in the midst of his hot stretch of play just after the turn of the calendar year, it doesn’t seem so silly now. But that is still a loaded question that could be consequential for the Bulls if they do something about it before next offseason arrives.

What do the Chicago Bulls do with Lauri

A report from Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times this week mentioned that Donovan and the Bulls still find Markkanen as an “important piece” both to this lineup and the young core. While that statement might not seem too reassuring on its surface, at least it’s something for Lauri to hang his hat on.

It’s hard to tell what the Bulls new front office regime should do at the deadline until Lauri returns to the lineup. If the frontcourt combination of Markkanen and WCJ are still having injury issues once the deadline arrives next month, then it might be time to consider a personnel change.

But if the Bulls keep finding more success in the win column, as they have of late, even once Lauri returns to the lineup, then trading him might not be so wise. The Bulls would also have to consider what they could get in return for an injury prone player like Lauri that is in the midst of the final year of his rookie contract.

By the time next offseason arrives, Lauri should be an unrestricted free agent. It doesn’t sound like Karnisovas and Eversley are chomping at the bit right now to hand him a lengthy contract extension during the summer either.

My own opinion on the matter would say that if Lauri doesn’t help the Bulls success in the win column upon his return to the lineup, likely next month, then it might be time to cash out while his stock is still pretty high and trade him. Dealing him at the deadline would likely get the Bulls a solid return, that they could further build around the rest of this young core with.

Moreover, prior to the latest injury for Markkanen, he was playing well for the Bulls in just over a dozen starts. And he averaged 19.1 points per game, 6.1 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.6 steals, and 0.4 blocks. Markkanen shot 51.4 percent from the field, 39.6 percent from beyond the arc, and 84.4 percent from the free-throw line.

Next up for Donovan and the Bulls, following their Feb. 26 loss at home to the Suns, is a meeting on the road north of the border with the streaking Toronto Raptors on Feb. 28. Tip off time between the Bulls and Raptors in Toronto on Feb. 28 is set for 6 p.m. CT.