Lauri Markkanen "100% committed" to the Bulls despite entering season without contract extension.

"It’s going to keep me locked in every single game. I’m looking forward to starting the season.” -Markkanen
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later

Body

Despite not reaching an agreement on a contract extension with the Bulls, Lauri Markkanen enters his fourth NBA season motivated more than ever to have his best season as a pro.

Now Lauri Markkanen is really serious; no, really. Watch out NBA.

"Another motivation for me," said the Bulls seven-foot forward. "Obviously, it's not the main thing. But obviously it fuels my fire to play even harder and do what this team needs me to do."

It's the failure Monday of the Bulls and Markkanen to reach a contract extension, which wasn't unexpected following what even Markkanen admitted was his poorest season as a professional in 2019-20. Markkanen last season had career lows in scoring, rebounding and shooting in yet another season mired in injuries and coaching uncertainty. Markkanen now starts a fourth season for the Bulls with his third NBA coach and perhaps a third different role.

Which Markkanen is sanguine about.

"I like where our offense is right now," Markkanen said. "I keep moving on the offensive end and am getting different looks than I got last year. I think it (the usage) has been higher. I don't know the numbers. But I really like the system and how we keep moving the ball and playing unselfish."

"I think we're moving in the right direction with the team right now, and that's my main focus. Obviously disappointing. I wanted to get a deal done. But that happened and we're moving on. I'm 100 percent committed to this team and we keep moving forward and we'll see what happens."

Lauri Markkanen

That should be encouraging for both Markkanen, 23, and the Bulls. If the Bulls get a good season from Markkanen, there should be more wins and perhaps a trip back to the post season. For Markkanen, it's a chance to enhance his worth as he becomes a restricted free agent next summer. That means the Bulls could match another team's offer, as they did with Zach LaVine.

Lauri Markkanen

Sometimes the player benefits and sometimes he doesn't.

The Bulls saw examples both ways as the team didn't offer Jimmy Butler an extension and he went on to his best professional season and a larger contract. Bobby Portis rejected a substantial offer from the Bulls, ended up being traded and signed with the Bucks this season for substantially less than he could have made with the Bulls.

Several third-year players signed extensions at the Monday deadline averaging between $16 million and $20 million annually. They included Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac with Orlando, OG Anunoby with Toronto, Luke Kennard with the Clippers and Derrick White with the Spurs. In addition to Markkanen, several top third year players didn't sign extension including John Collins of Atlanta, Lonzo Ball of the Pelicans, Zach Collins of Portland and Jarrett Allen with the Nets. Players from that draft class who previously signed extensions include Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum, De'Aaron Fox and Bam Adebayo. Markkanen was considered among that elite group until his setbacks last season.

The debatable question remains what it means for free agents this summer with many of the top potential free agents, like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis, LeBron James, Paul George and Gordon Hayward signing long-term deals.

"Obviously, I didn't play up to my abilities last year in my opinion. So that's the main thing," said Markkanen. "I think we're moving in the right direction with the team right now, and that's my main focus. Obviously disappointing. I wanted to get a deal done. But that happened and we're moving on. I'm 100 percent committed to this team and we keep moving forward and we'll see what happens."

"I don't think (an agreement) was very close," Markkanen admitted. "I talked to (my agent) obviously a lot the last couple of days, and (the offer) just wasn't something I would take (financially) and that's the end of it. So we move forward and we've got our first game (Wednesday). So that's what we're focused on. I feel like I did everything I could and I thought we would get something done. But it didn't happen and we're living with it."

Lauri Markkanen

Markkanen averaged 14.7 points and 6.3 rebounds last season after breaking out in 2018-19 to average 18.7 points and nine rebounds. After returning that season in December from injury, Markkanen had a brilliant post All-Star run averaging 26 points and 12 rebounds in February. He was being likened to Mitchell and Tatum from his draft class. But his role was severely diminished last season. Markkanen averaged 12.3 points and 6.5 rebounds in 26 minutes in the four preseason games this month with a team high 22 points and four three pointers in the closing game in Oklahoma City.

The Lauri sweepstakes begins.

"They had their reasons, and we had our side of the case," Markkanen said. "I'm not going to go into details. It didn't happen at this time, and we keep moving forward. Whatever this team needs. It wasn't really on my mind. It (is) kind of an extra motivation. I went day-by-day and did my work in everything I could. It just motivates me more, and that's how I'm going to keep it. Obviously, that added to the list. It's going to keep me locked in every single game. I'm looking forward to starting the season."

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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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