Bulls RFA Lauri Markkanen Seeking “Fresh Start”

Bulls restricted free agent forward Lauri Markkanen is looking to leave Chicago this offseason, he tells Finnish journalist Antti-Jussi Sipilä of Yle.fi (hat tip to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports).

“We have offers from several different teams,” Markkanen said in Finnish. “I want a fresh start to my NBA career somewhere else.”

The seventh overall pick in the 2017 draft, Markkanen showed a ton of promise as a stretch four during his first two NBA seasons, posting a career-high 18.7 PPG and 9.0 RPG on .430/.361/.872 shooting in 52 games (32.3 MPG) in 2018/19. However, his development trajectory has leveled off since then, as he has battled a series of injuries and provided up-and-down production.

Chicago issued Markkanen a $9MM qualifying offer last week, making him a restricted free agent and giving the team the right to match any offer sheet he signs.

With cap room drying up across the league, there are few teams left that could realistically sign the 24-year-old outright to an offer sheet that exceeds the Bulls’ qualifying offer or the full mid-level exception ($9.5MM). The Hornets were said to be mulling an offer sheet for Markkanen, but have since reached a deal with Kelly Oubre that projects to eat up most or all of their remaining space.

The Thunder and Pelicans are among the teams that could realistically generate enough room to make a play for Markkanen. However, there have been no reports indicating either club is considering an offer sheet. A sign-and-trade would also be a possibility to get Markkanen to a new team that doesn’t necessarily have the space to sign him outright, but that would require the Bulls’ cooperation and they’d seek at least an asset or two to let him walk.

A report earlier this week stated that the Spurs had interest in Markkanen in the DeMar DeRozan sign-and-trade, but weren’t comfortable meeting his asking price. The Timberwolves are also believed to have interest, but don’t have a ton of cap flexibility.

One additional option for Markkanen would be to accept his one-year qualifying offer, which would allow him to become an unrestricted free agent in 2022. However, if he’s eager to leave Chicago, that’s likely not his preferred path.

The Bulls’ interest – or lack thereof – in hanging onto Markkanen will likely dictate how this situation plays out. If the team is willing to let him go after reshaping its roster this week, a sign-and-trade seems like a plausible outcome.

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