Bulls’ free-agent moves scream for Lauri Markkanen to be great
The rebuild still lacks a superstar after the two latest free-agent additions, which means the belief remains that Markkanen will fill that void.
Lauri Markkanen doesn’t have to be good for the Bulls this season.
The 7-footer needs to be great.
How do you say “No pressure’’ in Finnish?
Why the urgency suddenly being put upon Markkanen? The pressure definitely isn’t coming from the outside, but rather from the inside thanks to the two moves the Bulls have made since the free-agent frenzy started Sunday. Moves that scream for Markkanen to take a leap towards greatness.
The Bulls had $23 million to spend, and reached an agreement with veteran forward Thaddeus Young. Less than 14 hours later, there was the sign-and-trade with the Wizards in which the Bulls acquired combo guard Tomas Satoransky and handed him a three-year deal with some team protection in the final season. On Tuesday, the Bulls agreed to terms with 7-1 center Luke Kornet.
The additions are needed, especially from a depth standpoint, but won’t move the superstar needle an inch.
Young will be a great veteran presence, maybe even an option over Wendell Carter Jr. to finish games late, while Satoransky can not only tutor No. 7 overall pick Coby White, but also help push Kris Dunn from a competition standpoint.
Golf claps for everyone, but this wasn’t what was promised when Jimmy Butler was sent to the Timberwolves on draft night in 2017, marking the beginning of the rebuild.
Vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said the focus was on a new direction. A move away from mediocrity. The goal was no longer to be an early-round playoff victim. It was to build a championship.
Memo to the front office: NBA championships are built by rosters with at least one superstar. Some teams even have three or four.
Grit, spirit, and teamwork are all cute little adjectives, but the likes of Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James and Steph Curry haven’t shown much interest in what color your aura is glowing lately.
What the Bulls did this week was lock the roster in for at least the next two seasons. Sure, trades can always happen, but from a salary-cap standpoint these are the Bulls through the 2020-21 season — like it or not.
The only way that changes is if Otto Porter declines his $28.4 million player option before the 2020-21 campaign, which is unlikely.
What this means for this new-look core is a whole lot of ifs.
If Zach LaVine’s talent ceiling is still actually a foot away from being reached rather than inches as it appears.
If Carter can overcome being an undersized center in the Eastern Conference, having to deal with the strength of a Joel Embiid or Nikola Vucevic. And now he even has to deal with new Bucks big man — and former mentor — Robin Lopez.
If White can indeed turn into a bigger version of De’Aaron Fox, learning the point-guard position on the fly.
If Markkanen can do all season long what he did for 11 games last February.
It’s the latter that is the most realistic. The big man averaged 26 points, 12.2 rebounds and 2.4 assists, while shooting 35 percent from three-point range in that stretch, reaching “unicorn’’ status along the way.
If he can stay healthy and come close to duplicating those numbers over an 82-game season, well, Paxson and general manager Gar Forman may indeed have landed their superstar, and they did it from within.
If not? This is nothing but another run toward mediocrity. Different roster, same old outcome, same old Bulls.
NOTE: The Bulls continued building depth, as well as taking care of their own, by signing back-up point guard Ryan Arcidiacono to a three-year, $9 million deal. It is Arcidiacono’s first guaranteed contract. They also signed 6-5 guard Adam Mokoka to a two-way contract.