Lauri Markkanen has spent his entire career up to this point with the Chicago Bulls, but the fifth-year forward is ready for a 'fresh start somewhere else.' After being relegated to a reserve role with the Bulls midway through the 2020-21 season, Markkanen has made it clear he would like to continue his career with a different team.
One team interested in Markkanen is the New Orleans Pelicans, according to veteran NBA reporter Marc Stein. The Pelicans have a $17 million trade exception, and as such they should be able to offer him a sizeable contract. Chicago is reportedly seeking a first-round pick to facilitate a trade. The Charlotte Hornets also have strong interest in Markkanen, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium.
The Bulls extended a qualifying offer to Markkanen late last month, which made him a restricted free agent. As such, the Bulls will have an opportunity to match any outside offers Markkanen receives. When, and if, he signs an outside offer sheet, the Bulls will have three days to decide if they want to match it. The obvious question now is if they will match any other offers.
Given the history between the two sides, it wouldn't be super surprising if the Bulls ultimately allow Markkanen to sign elsewhere. After all, the two sides failed to reach an agreement on an extension prior to the start of last season. The Bulls were reportedly listening to offers for him leading up to the trade deadline, and then he was bumped to the bench. That's certainly not the typical chain of events for young players who are very valued and viewed as long-term pieces by an organization.
After the Bulls failed to qualify for postseason play last season, Markkanen made it clear that he thought he had more to offer an organization.
"My thing is I think I've always been a team-first guy. And I think now it's time to look at the business side of the game," Markkanen said in May. "I feel like I'm only 23 years old and I have a lot of basketball ahead of me. It's a good opportunity to look what's out there for me. I can be a focal point. I think I have a lot more to offer. ... I know I can do a lot more. I'm excited about what the business side is going to bring this year."
Markkanen has his limitations as a player. He's far from a dominant defender, and he has dealt with his fair share of injury issues over the course of his career. However, he's a reliable shooter -- he shot 40 percent from long range last season -- and as such he could provide a team with some legitimate floor-spacing. Given the emphasis placed on shooting and spacing in the NBA today, Markkanen could prove to be a very valuable piece in the right situation.