Player breakdowns: Forward Lauri Markkanen and the front-office dilemma

With the NBA season still up in the air, the Sun-Times will look at all the Bulls, the seasons they had and the upcoming seasons they could have, in Chicago or elsewhere. Next up is Markkanen and how the latest front-office news will impact his stay long term.

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Changes are likely coming to the Bulls organization. But will they be enough to make Lauri Markkanen happy?

Changes are likely coming to the Bulls organization. But will they be enough to make Lauri Markkanen happy?

Carlos Osorio/AP

When Jim Boylen was insisting before the league shutdown that he still had the attention of his locker room, the Bulls coach wasn’t exaggerating.

The players were still buying into what he was selling as far as game planning and attention to detail, especially on the defensive end, even with all the losing that was going on.

For the most part.

Denzel Valentine made his frustrations with the coaching staff very public, toeing the line in a Sun-Times article in which he didn’t seem to be the least bit fazed with the masses calling for Boylen’s job.

And then there was the quiet storm, privately churning in the corner since early on in the season, keeping his frustrations as off-the-record one-liners, discrediting the direction of the offense, his role in it, and the highly embraced shot profile that Bulls analytics was stressing.

Make no mistake about it, third-year big man Lauri Markkanen was one unhappy camper before the coronavirus put the NBA on hiatus. Unhappy enough that if the direction of the organization was going to stay unchanged, he’d rather be elsewhere.

The good news is the organization won’t stay as is. The Sun-Times was the first to report back on All-Star Sunday that COO Michael Reinsdorf was in the initial stages of a complete restructure, looking to move off of current general manager Gar Forman.

The bad news?

Will it be enough to satisfy Markkanen’s frustration?

ESPN reported on Friday that the Bulls have started a “formal search process’’ to hire an executive with full authority on basketball decisions, but what exactly will that look like? There’s the problem. That’s still unknown. Titles and the number of hires made are still being discussed daily.

The report mentioned Nuggets GM Arturas Karnisovas and Toronto GM Bobby Webster as two candidates to be interviewed, but a source told the Sun-Times on Friday that a lot of Reinsdorf’s focus has also been on Miami — not only in their front office personnel like vice president of basketball operations Adam Simon, but also mimicking the structure, as well as scouting several of their players that will enter free agency.

The Bulls have been putting both point guard Goran Dragic and small forward Derrick Jones Jr. under the microscope the last month, and are hoping the new hire — or hires — will be aggressive on the trade front to move a tight cap corner that they have painted themselves into.

Depending on who sits in those new GM/VP seats, Markkanen could be one such piece to be packaged, especially if they deem his unhappiness beyond repair. That doesn’t seem to be the case, but that will still have to be explored.

The Situation: Markkanen has completely gone backwards in his development with Boylen, and has rarely been a factor on the court at the same time as Zach LaVine. One of those problems is very easy to remedy, especially if the new front office wants to bring in a head coach of their choosing.

The LaVine problem is much more difficult to figure out, especially because Markkanen and LaVine were identified as the two foundation pieces to carry this rebuild, and their games should complement each other.

The Resolution: Markkanen far too often just tells his bosses what he thinks they want to hear, admitting that Finnish athletes rarely look to rock the boat. He needs to be real with his new bosses, however, because he has way too much talent to become a 7-foot enigma.

Bold Prediction: The upcoming changes will be sweeping enough to refocus Markkanen and get him back on board. Look for a huge 2020-21 season from the versatile forward.

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