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Contract negotiations between Bulls, Lauri Markkanen continue

The Dec. 21 deadline is approaching, and if the two sides can’t agree on a deal, Markkanen will become a restricted free agent next offseason. That’s probably the smart path for the Bulls to follow, considering Markkanen’s shooting struggles.

The Bulls and Lauri Markkanen continue their contract talks, but it might be a smarter move for the team to let him become a restricted free agent next offseason.
The Bulls and Lauri Markkanen continue their contract talks, but it might be a smarter move for the team to let him become a restricted free agent next offseason.
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Contract negotiations between the Bulls and forward Lauri Markkanen continue, Markkanen and coach Billy Donovan said Thursday, but it’s unknown where they’ll end up as Monday’s deadline approaches.

“What I will say is we all believe Lauri is an important part to our team moving forward,” Donovan said during a teleconference call after the Bulls’ afternoon practice in Oklahoma City. “We feel like he’s only going to continue to get better and improve, but I would say that’s something that both sides are going to try and work out.”

Several other standout players from the 2017 draft class have already put their rookie contracts in the rearview mirror, signing fat new extensions — including Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell and, most recently, Heat center Bam Adebayo, who got a five-year, $195 million deal just before training camp opened.

Markkanen said two weeks ago he wanted to remain a Bull and get a deal done. The concern is whether the timing is right for the Bulls to do that, or whether they should instead let him hit the market as a restricted free agent, allowing his price to be set by other teams.

Considering the inconsistencies in Markkanen’s play going back to last season, the latter might be smarter business.

“There’s been negotiations, but not much to tell you guys right now, so we’ll see,” Markkanen said. “It’s not putting any extra pressure on me right now, so I feel confident going game by game. We’ll see what happens.”

Three games into the preseason, there still are lingering concerns about Markkanen, starting with his shooting. Entering the preseason finale against the Thunder on Friday, he’s shooting 30% from the field and 26%

(5-for-19) from three-point range.

Donovan’s advice for Markkanen, the No. 7 pick in 2017: Shooters gotta shoot.

“I was really encouraged to see him, after missing quite a few shots in a row, being able to bounce back,’’ Donovan said of Markkanen’s performance in the Bulls’ 124-103 win over the Thunder on Wednesday. “Now, the next step for him is going to [be when] he misses one or two, being able to make the third one. There’s a mindset to that. I feel good about the shots. He’s not forcing it. There are some he could probably shot-fake a little bit, but for the most part, he’s taking pretty good looks. He is 7 feet, he can shoot over a lot of people, so he just has to keep internally having that confidence that the next one is going to go down.”

The alternative, Donovan said, is Markkanen becoming passive, which could affect the entire offense.

“What that’s going to do is jam up the floor for the rest of the guys,” Donovan said. “When he catches the ball, people shift out to him, which opens up spacing. He’s done a good job, Lauri. He just hasn’t shot the ball like he’s capable of, I believe.”

The hope is he will eventually, but is that enough to get the Bulls to take a leap of faith on an extension in the next few days?

“In terms of the details of what those conversations are like with [executive vice president of basketball operations] Arturas [Karnisovas] and [Markkanen’s] agent, I think that’s between Arturas and the agent,” Donovan said. “But in terms of us talking about how we see Lauri organizationally, I think we all feel pretty good and pretty strong that he’s an important piece to our team.”