(670 The Score) Bulls big man Lauri Markkanen wants to remain in Chicago for the long haul. That’s a sentiment he expressed on several occasions in the past and again on Tuesday, when Bulls training camp officially opened with individual workouts ahead of group activities getting started later this weekend.
Just how much does Markkanen want to sign an extension to accomplish that goal? Enough to stay on the case of his agent, Michael Lelchitski, to get a deal done before the Dec. 21 deadline for players in the 2017 draft class to sign extensions off their rookie-scale contracts.
“Like I’ve said before, I really want to be here for the long term, so I’m putting some pressure on my agent to get it done,” Markkanen said on a Zoom call Tuesday.
While admitting that, the 23-year-old Markkanen added he tries not to get too involved in the day-to-day discussions.
“I check in every now and then, but like I said, it’s not something I think of,” Markkanen said. “I don’t want to put too much effort just spending too much energy in my day thinking about things I can’t control. Of course, he kind of keeps me in the loop. I don’t know what’s going to happen. Hopefully they’re going to come to an agreement. I can’t say how likely that is.”
Markkanen’s contract situation is a tricky one. While he wants to sign an extension and his game theoretically fits the vision of the new Arturas Karnisovas-Marc Eversley regime, Markkanen is coming off a poor 2019-’20 season. He averaged 14.7 points and 6.3 rebounds while shooting 42.5% from the floor and 34.4% from 3-point range, which all represented career-low marks. He was admittedly too passive too often, even when accounting for the fact that former coach Jim Boylen’s system wasn’t best-suited for him.
Markkanen’s camp still views him as a cornerstone piece for the Bulls’ future and will want to be paid commensurately. Karnisovas and Eversley may well view him as the same way – but they could want Markkanen to prove himself on the floor in a new system before making a lucrative financial investment. If that's the case and significant disagreement in negotiations ensues, Markkanen will be bound for restricted free agency next offseason.
“That's how I kind of look at every season, to be honest,” Markkanen said when asked if this was a make-or-break season for him with the Bulls. “I have to go out there and perform at a high level consistently. That’s what I got to do. Obviously, I see the other guys (in my draft class) getting (extensions), but like I said, I’m not worried about that. I'm going into the season with high expectations no matter what happened last year, and I'm really motivated to get out there and perform at a high level.
“Just control what I can control. I’m going in every day just working as hard as I can and just be aggressive on the floor and do what I can do to make the team better. I'll let my agent and front office work on the contract side, so I’m not even worried about that. I’m just worried about what’s going on on the floor.”
Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas expressed a similar optimistic tone when discussing Markkanen's future.
"We like Lauri and we would like him to be part of this organization for a long time, so the conversations will continue until the season starts, the deadline is when the season starts," Karnisovas said. "We're going to make every effort to get this done."
Regardless of how the situation plays out in the next few weeks, Markkanen does believe he’s ready to take a leap forward in new coach Billy Donovan’s system. If he does, he should get paid handsomely, even if it takes until next summer to reach the agreement.
“We’ve been working a lot, just putting some offense in,” Markkanen said. “I like the movement we’ve been having, and I feel like guys are in different spots. We’ve been playing a lot, and I feel like everybody is involved, so I’m excited.”
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for 670TheScore.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.