Pelicans, Hornets Eyeing Lauri Markkanen

The Pelicans have displayed interest in restricted free agent forward Lauri Markkanen, sources tell veteran NBA reporter Marc Stein (Twitter link).

As Stein notes, New Orleans just generated a trade exception worth more than $17MM in the team’s three-way trade that sent Steven Adams and Eric Bledsoe to Memphis. That newly-created exception could be used to accommodate a contract worth more than the mid-level for Markkanen.

The Pelicans and Bulls also haven’t officially completed their Lonzo Ball sign-and-trade deal yet, so it’s possible a Markkanen sign-and-trade could be looped into that agreement. However, that’d be more complicated, and the Ball agreement is currently being investigated by the NBA.

The Bulls are believed to be seeking a first-round pick in order to facilitate a Markkanen sign-and-trade, says Stein. The Pelicans can’t use their trade exception to sign Markkanen to an offer sheet, so they’d need Chicago’s cooperation in order to offer him more than the mid-level.

Meanwhile, Jordan Schultz of Bleacher Report says (via Twitter) that the Hornets, who were rumored earlier in the week to be considering an offer sheet for Markkanen, remain in the hunt as a potential “sleeper.” However, that scenario is difficult to envision.

The Hornets have used up their cap room and would almost certainly have to acquire Markkanen via sign-and-trade, as Schultz tweets. Charlotte doesn’t have a trade exception that would work in such a deal and would therefore have to match salaries.

The only salaries on Charlotte’s books that would really make sense as primary matching pieces, given Markkanen’s salary expectations, are Terry Rozier‘s ($17.9MM) or Mason Plumlee‘s ($9.25MM). Rozier is more valuable to the Hornets than he would be to the Bulls, who just agreed to acquire Ball and Alex Caruso. And Charlotte just traded for Plumlee a few days ago to address the team’s hole at center.

It’s possible the Hornets will find a way to get creative and land Markkanen, perhaps using smaller salaries, but it would be a challenge.

Markkanen, meanwhile, continues to explore his options around the NBA in the hopes of joining a new team. He told a Finnish journalist earlier this week that he’s seeking a “fresh start” after four years in Chicago.

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