Lauri Markkanen

Central Notes: Bulls, Gasol, Cavs, Pacers, Pistons

There’s a growing belief around the NBA that the Bulls are open to discussing trades for anyone on their roster – and any assets they hold – besides Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr., sources familiar with the team’s plans tell Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic.

Still, while the Bulls will likely consider a number of trade options this offseason, Mayberry makes a case that the club shouldn’t part ways with the No. 7 overall pick. Mayberry argues that cashing in their chips now for a veteran could be both premature and risky for the Bulls, who would have marginal assets available going forward. Plus, the No. 7 selection has proven valuable for the franchise in recent years — Markkanen and Carter were both selected at that spot.

Meanwhile, K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune tackles a handful of Bulls-related topics in his latest mailbag, exploring draft, trade, and free agency options. Johnson believes the Bulls would “absolutely” try to get involved as a facilitator in a multi-team Anthony Davis trade, and later suggests that if Chicago pursues an RFA point guard, Malcolm Brogdon is probably a more realistic target than D’Angelo Russell.

Here’s more from around the Central:

Bulls Notes: Dunn, Markkanen, Wings, Forman

On Tuesday, Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote about how Bulls point guard Kris Dunn wanted to know what team personnel – i.e. head coach Jim Boylen and vice president of basketball operations John Paxson – were thinking in regard to Dunn’s future with the team.

As Cowley put it, it’s up for debate whether or not Dunn has the skills to be a starter in this league for a team on the back-end of a rebuilding project. That is, a team that expects to start competing for the playoffs sooner rather than later. As such, the question becomes whether the Bulls are truly committed to Dunn.

“I haven’t really talked to them (about that)”, Dunn said. “So once I talk to them, I’ll get a sense of what they’re thinking… It’s a business. They’re going to do what they’re going to do. I’m just going to control what I can control. I’m excited to get back in the gym and do what I do.”

Fortunately or perhaps unfortunately for Dunn, he got a pretty straightforward answer from Paxson earlier today, as K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune tweets. Per Johnson, Paxson told the media that the Bulls have not yet given up on Dunn, but that the team needed to get better at the point guard position and that Dunn will have the opportunity this summer to show that he can improve his game to where Paxson and Boylen feel it needs to be.

There’s more out of Chicago this evening:

  • An official update from the team reports that big man Lauri Markkanen, after completing thorough examinations from cardiologists at both Rush University Medical Center and Johns Hopkins University, has been cleared to resume full basketball-related activities. Medical testing revealed that Markkanen’s symptoms (e.g. rapid heart rate) were primarily related to a combination of dehydration and nutrient deficiency.
  • In addition to his comments regarding Dunn, Paxson also iterated today (via the Bulls’ official Twitter handle) how the team is looking to add versatility to the wing position this off-season, with some lineups next year featuring Markkanen at the five and Otto Porter Jr. at the four.
  • As part of his story on Boylen’s extension, Cowley notes that Paxson quickly shot down the idea of demoting general manager Gar Forman, stating that Forman’s job is safe and reiterating that “(Forman is) very good at what he does.”

Bulls Notes: LaVine, Boylen, Markkanen

Zach LaVine doesn’t mind lashing back at critics who said the Bulls made a mistake when they matched the four-year, $78MM offer sheet he received from the Kings last summer, relays K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune. LaVine is posting career highs in scoring (23.7 PPG), rebounds (4.7) and assists (4.5) while shooting a career-high 46.7% from the field.

“Now it’s looking like I’m a pretty good deal, right?” he said.

The only thing that hasn’t improved for LaVine this season is his team’s won-loss record. After three years in Minnesota, Lavine was hoping to be part of a resurgence in Chicago when he was acquired in a trade two years ago. Instead, the Bulls are limping to the finish line at 22-58. LaVine promises next year will be different, health permitting.

“I haven’t played in a meaningful game in five years of my career, so it’s getting to the point where you really want to start looking past ‘self’ things and moving toward you want to win,” he said. “We’re in the right direction moving forward, but we have to make some changes individually and as a team to get to that point.”

There’s more today out of Chicago:

  • Injuries have left the Bulls with a depleted roster, but Jim Boylen hasn’t changed his approach to coaching, Johnson tweets. Chicago started recently promoted G Leaguers Rawle Alkins and Walt Lemon in last night’s loss to the Sixers, along with Wayne Selden, Shaquille Harrison and Robin Lopez. “It’s not an option for me to coach only the established guys or whatever,” Boylen said. “I can’t be different than I’m asking them to be. I talk about when they step on the floor, no matter where you’re from or how much you money you make, you gotta compete. Well, I gotta be the same way.” (Twitter link).
  • The results are good so far for Lauri Markkanen, who has been shut down for the rest of the season because of a rapid heart rate, relays Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times. Boylen said Saturday that Markkanen has been working out while wearing heart monitors and all the medical tests have been encouraging. ‘We’re very positive about where he’s at and where he’ll be,’’ Boylen said. ‘‘He’s in great spirits. They’re still doing some daily evaluations of where he’s at.’’
  • The Bulls changed the course of their franchise by trading away Jimmy Butler in 2017, but injuries have prevented them from assessing how their young core fits together, Johnson notes in a separate story.

Lauri Markkanen On Season-Ending Health Scare: “I Felt Weird”

The Bulls shut down big man Lauri Markkanen on Wednesday after he experienced “an episode of rapid heart rate and fatigue” during Tuesday’s contest against the Raptors. Markkanen was kept overnight in a Toronto hospital following Chicago’s game before being ruled out for the remainder of the season.

As NBC Sports Chicago’s Mark Strotman writes, Markkanen was “not worried” but felt off during Tuesday’s contest. After a sluggish first half, he did not return to the game.

“I wasn’t really worried at any point,” Markkanen said. “Just felt really weird. How you are after a workout and a couple minutes in (to the game) I felt like I already finished a workout. It was kind of tough stuff but I’m still alive. It wasn’t scary but it felt pretty weird.”

Markannen, 21, appeared in 52 total contests for Chicago this season after missing 23 games earlier in 2018/19 due to an elbow sprain. The Finnish center said he wanted to finish out the regular season on a high note, but the unexpected medical episode did not permit that.

“I took a lot of pride on if I had something small just playing through it and not missing any more games,” he said. “It’s just unfortunate, but health is the most important. So I’m frustrated I can’t play but it is what it is.”

While Markkanen’s season ended prematurely, he certainly showed some sophomore year improvements. He set career-highs across several categories, most notably PPG (18.7), RPG (9.0) and MPG (32.3).

Bulls Notes: Rose, Lopez, Markkanen, Harrison

Derrick Rose‘s latest injury decreases the chances that the Bulls will try to sign him next season, writes K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune in an question-and-answer column. The Chicago native and former MVP revived his career in Minnesota this season, averaging 18.0 PPG and shooting 37% from 3-point range in 51 games. However, his season ended early again due to bone chips in his right elbow that required surgery last week.

Rose will be a free agent this summer after signing a one-year deal with the Timberwolves, and there was talk that the Bulls might be interested in pursuing him to settle their issues at point guard. In light of the injury, however, Johnson suggests Ricky Rubio, Darren Collison and Patrick Beverley as better targets.

There’s more Bulls news to pass along:

  • Chicago probably won’t be able to re-sign veteran center Robin Lopez, Johnson writes in the same column. Even though there’s some mutual interest, Lopez will be seeking a situation that offers regular playing time, and Wendell Carter is the Bulls’ center of the future. Coach Jim Boylen has also mentioned the possibility of using Lauri Markkanen at center and Otto Porter at small forward against smaller lineups, which leaves few available minutes for Lopez. Johnson notes that Bulls management likes team-first veterans, so they would try to find a similar player if Lopez leaves.
  • Injuries continue to derail the Bulls’ rebuilding process, observes Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times. Markkanen is the latest player to be shut down for the rest of the season after “an episode of rapid heart rate and fatigue.” A source told Cowley that Markkanen was experiencing a rapid heart rate in the locker room during Tuesday’s game. His condition improved after showering and eating, but he became light-headed while waiting for the bus to the airport. Markkanen was limited to 68 games as a rookie because of back issues and managed only 52 games this year after being sidelined at the start of the season with an elbow injury.
  • Shaquille Harrison has proven he belongs in the NBA during his time with the Bulls, contends Michael Walton of NBC Sports. Harrison’s defensive prowess is well known, but he has been improving as a scorer, pouring in a game-high 21 points last night. Chicago faces a decision this summer as Harrison’s $1,588,231 salary for next season will become guaranteed on August 15.

Bulls Shut Down Lauri Markkanen For Remainder Of Season

The Bulls are shutting down Lauri Markkanen for the remainder of the season, Shams Charania of The Athletic reports (Twitter feed).

Markkanen left Tuesday’s game against the Raptors because of extreme fatigue and the team says that tests have been normal after “an episode of rapid heart rate and fatigue.” He’ll undergo additional testing in 10-14, per Charania.

Chicago has one of the worst records in the east, as our Reverse Standings show. The team has no real need to play one of their franchise cornerstones and risk further setbacks.

Six games remain for the Bulls. Robin Lopez, who will be a free agent after the season, and Cristiano Felicio are likely to see additional playing time. Both bigs saw at least 28 minutes of action tonight against the Blazers in a game which Markkanen missed.

Bulls Will ‘Absolutely’ Retain Paxson, Forman

The Bulls have no plans to replace executive VP of basketball operations John Paxson or general manager Gar Forman in their front office anytime soon, team president and COO Michael Reinsdorf tells K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune. Reinsdorf confirmed in no uncertain terms that Paxson and Forman would be back next season.

“Absolutely. We believe they’ve done a great job,” Reinsdorf said of the duo. “I know that in this market, with some of our fans and some in the media, they look at it differently. That perplexes me. Let’s talk about them individually because that’s another thing I don’t understand — why they’re referred to as ‘GarPax’ when they have different job responsibilities.

“… I said [previously] that if we ever felt we weren’t headed in the right direction that we’d be open to change. But we’re nowhere near that. John’s ability to build rosters is proven. We have the utmost confidence in him.”

Reinsdorf took exception to the idea that the Bulls have gone through a handful of rebuilds under Paxson and Forman, arguing that this is just the club’s second rebuild, and stating that he believes it’s very much on the right track. Pointing to promising young players like Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, and Wendell Carter, Reinsdorf likened the Bulls to the Kings and expressed optimism that Chicago can take a similar step forward next season.

The Bulls’ president and COO also offered a defense of Forman’s draft record, praising the GM for selecting players like Jimmy Butler, Nikola Mirotic, Taj Gibson, and Bobby Portis outside of the lottery over the years. The selection of Markkanen at No. 7 in 2017 earned high praise from Reinsdorf as well.

“If we look at Lauri Markkanen, if you did the 2017 draft over again, Lauri in theory could be the No. 1 pick in the draft,” Reinsdorf said. “You might say Jayson Tatum or Donovan Mitchell. But Lauri could be the No. 1 pick. That’s how good that pick was at No. 7.”

While Paxson, Forman, and head coach Jim Boylen have all received plenty of criticism from segments of the Bulls’ fanbase over the course of the 2018/19 season, it sounds like all three will be back to start the 2019/20 campaign. In addition to praising the club’s management team, Reinsdorf echoed Paxson’s earlier comments on Boylen returning for next season, lauding the work he has done with Markkanen and LaVine.

“Nothing has changed from what John has said,” Reinsdorf said. “I’m very happy with the job that Jim has done. Everything he has said he was going to do, he has done.”

Central Notes: Bledsoe, Bucks, Porter, Lopez

The Bucks’ decision to give point guard Eric Bledsoe a four-year, $70MM extension was a sensible move by both parties, Bobby Marks of ESPN argues. It’s a worthwhile price to retain Bledsoe and keep the core group together and that should aid their recruiting pitch to All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo as he approaches free agency in 2021. Bledsoe has become a more efficient player in Milwaukee, particularly in coach Mike Budenholzer’s system. With that order of business out of the way, the Bucks front office can now concentrate on re-signing Khris Middleton and restricted free agent Malcolm Brogdon this summer, Marks adds.

We have more from the Central Division:

  • The Bucks had a much more sensible plan to build around Antetokounmpo than the Lakers did with LeBron James, Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times opines. Milwaukee has a completely different scheme under Budenholzer, surrounding its star with shooters through savvy decisions in free agency and trades. That has opened up driving lanes for Antetokounmpo. Los Angeles’ front office brought in playmakers and ballhandlers around James, Woike notes, which is why the Lakers rank 28th in 3-point shooting.
  • The Bulls have a much brighter outlook than they did at this time last season, when they went into full tank mode, Matt John of Basketball Insiders notes. The addition of Otto Porter has allowed the Bulls to improve its spacing offensively. Improved health for second-year power forward Lauri Markkanen has also made a difference, as he’s enjoying the best stretch of his young career, John continues. Shooting guard Zach LaVine remains a defensive liability but in a recent eight-game stretch, Chicago was a plus-8.2 with him on the floor, Johns points out. The Bulls will still get a high lottery pick and should continue to be on the upswing, John concludes.
  • It’s not out of the question that Robin Lopez re-signs with the Bulls, according to Sam Smith of the team’s website. The veteran center is showing his value as an offensive factor due to Wendell Carter Jr.‘s injury. The front office was concerned that Lopez couldn’t be effective switching and getting out to the perimeter defensively, but recently few teams have beaten the Bulls at his position, Smith notes. Lopez will want to test the market but with the team’s frontcourt needs expanding, his return for next season will be under consideration, Smith adds.

Lowe’s Latest: Rockets, Prince, Blazers, Heat

The Rockets and Cavaliers had discussions about sending Brandon Knight to Cleveland along with a first-round pick in exchange for Alec Burks. However, Zach Lowe of ESPN.com hears that those talks have ceased. Houston has also spoken with the Grizzlies about potential Knight deals.

Cleveland is selling Burks, Rodney Hood, and any other “indispensable asset” prior to the deadline, Lowe writes. The team is willing to take back future salary in exchange for picks.

Houston is expected to scour the market for deals leading up to the deadline with an eye on attaching a future first-rounder to Knight and Marquese Chriss. The Rockets would likely push for lottery protections on any picks that would convey past James Harden‘s prime.

Lowe’s latest piece contains trade nuggets from several teams in the league and we’ve already passed along news from the Grizzlies’ Mike Conley and Marc Gasol sweepstakes as well as the Magic’s pre-deadline plan. Here are the rest of the newsworthy notes from the ESPN piece:

  • The Hawks have made Taurean Prince available in trade talks, sources tell Lowe. Atlanta hasn’t received a ton of traction on Prince deals because of its asking price. The organization wants a young prospect and a pick in exchange for the small forward.
  • The Blazers have put their first-rounder on the table in trade talks, sources tell Lowe. Portland has reached out about Otto Porter Jr.‘s availability, though Wizards owner Ted Leonsis previously announced that the team would not be trading Porter before the deadline.
  • Porter has drawn interest from several teams. In addition to the Blazers, the Mavericks and Jazz have kept an eye on the situation. Dallas was interested in swapping Harrison Barnes for Porter prior to the Kristaps Porzingis trade.
  • Miami appears to be willing to move anyone but Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson and Bam Adebayo for cap relief. Lowe expects the Heat to try to get at least a second-round pick for Wayne Ellington.
  • Lowe confirms a previous report that JaMychal Green, Justin Holiday, and Garrett Temple are all available. Holiday, who was acquired from the Bulls earlier this year, cost the Grizzlies two second-round picks.
  • The Kings have approximately $11MM in cap space available and they want to use it to pick up an asset. Lowe writes that it could be a draft pick or a player who will help them win this season.
  • Sacramento is willing to engage in trade talks about Willie Cauley-Stein, who will be a restricted free agent this summer. The Kings may simply let the center walk should he receive too high of an offer this offseason.
  • The Bulls are expected to listen to offers for anyone but Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter. Lowe doesn’t expect Chicago to deal either Kris Dunn or Zach LaVine though, as the team’s asking price is anticipated to be too high.
  • The Nuggets own a pair of trade exceptions and have slightly less than $7MM in breathing room under the tax. They are open to taking on a salary dump if another team calls and has to shed a player in that price range.

Bulls Notes: Boylen, Markkanen, Payne

Critics have called on coach Jim Boylen to make the 3-point shot a greater part of his offense, but the Bulls don’t have the personnel to make that strategy work, writes Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times.

“What we haven’t done is finished very well at those plays at the rim,” Boylen said in response to a question this week. “That’s where we have to grow. Then it’s finishing at the rim, maybe the defense takes it away, and now you spray out [to the 3-point line]. Who are we spraying out to? Well, we’re going to keep working at that.”

Lauri Markkanen has been the team’s most efficient 3-point shooter, but he doesn’t rank in the league’s top 20. The Bulls are 19th in the NBA in 3-point shooting percentage at 34.7%, but are 26th in the number of shots taken and tied for last in makes.

“Sometimes you don’t have the personnel to become a team that’s in the top 10 in 3-point attempts, and makes, and field-goal percentage,” Zach LaVine said. “I think we can take more, but we’d have to be hunting them, and certain guys have to hunt them.”

There’s more news out of Chicago:

  • The Bulls shouldn’t be so quick to commit to Boylen beyond this season, argues Jon Greenburg of The Athletic. He notes that the organization didn’t really conduct a coaching search before hiring Fred Hoiberg in 2015 and contends that Boylen is too similar to what management decided it didn’t want when it fired Tom Thibodeau. Greenburg mentions current Grizzlies assistant Jerry Stackhouse as a bold hiring the team could make.
  • Markkanen is still finding his way after missing the first part of the season with an elbow injury, relays Sam Smith of NBA.com. The second-year forward is averaging 17.0 PPG since returning to action, but hasn’t become the focus of the offense that many had hoped, taking just 14.6 shots per night.“I’d rather have plays where I get good shots rather than trying to force something up,” he explained. “I think it all starts from being aggressive and getting to my spots, try to make the right basketball plays.”
  • Taking a chance on Cameron Payne wasn’t a bad gamble, Smith writes in a question-and-answer column. The Bulls waived Payne last week after giving up Taj Gibson, Doug McDermott and a second-round pick to acquire him in 2017. But Smith says the front office never intended to re-sign Gibson or McDermott, so it didn’t hurt to take a chance on a former lottery pick.