Bulls forward Lauri Markkanen knows how to get to the upstairs offices at the Advocate Center. He simply chose not to visit them in the last week leading up to the NBA trade deadline Thursday.
“No, I didn’t go talk to him,’’ Markkanen said, referring to Arturas Karnisovas, executive vice president of basketball operations.
The option was out there; coach Billy Donovan told players on several occasions that if they had questions about their standing, there was a simple way to get answers.
Markkanen’s feeling was “I’m good.’’
And in the end, he was.
Rumors of Markkanen going to New Orleans for point guard Lonzo Ball had some life going into the deadline, according to a source, but the Pelicans’ asking price was too much. Like the Magic, the Pelicans were said to want the Bulls’ 2021 first-round draft pick as part of a package. But the Bulls were more comfortable using that pick to acquire Nikola Vucevic from the Magic.
According to the source, there were other calls about Markkanen, but none serious. The Bulls spoke with the Wizards about adding Markkanen in the teams’ multi-player deal, but the Wizards didn’t want to part with a first-round pick, the source said.
Markkanen went into Thursday claiming to be unconcerned.
“I felt I’m in a good place that I can focus on the task at hand, I can play games and it’s not gonna bother me,’’ he said Wednesday. “I can’t control [trades] — I knew that was one possibility when I didn’t sign my extension before the season, so I knew that was one thing that can happen. So it doesn’t affect me at all.”
But these trades could affect him yet — and in a good way. In acquiring Vucevic and defensive-minded big man Daniel Theis, Markkanen no longer has the pressure of being the second option to Zach LaVine in the scoring department or playing out of position on defense.
More important, in Vucevic and Theis — each with a European background — Markkanen now has veteran teammates with more in common with him. If he can’t make this work, it might be time to let him walk as a restricted free agent this summer.
“Besides the quality of players we added, I think also the players have been in playoff games,” Karnisovas said of Vucevic and Theis. “They’ve played in meaningful games. They’re also a competitive bunch.”
It will now fall on Donovan to get the new faces in the mix and figure out how they will play with Markkanen, LaVine and Thad Young. In any case, the goal is to win games down the stretch and reach the playoffs.
It would be nice if Markkanen is there for the ride before he and the Bulls discuss the next order of business this offseason.
“We try to win games,” Karnisovas said. “That’s basically why we’re in this business. And again, right from the beginning from the time we got here, we said that we’re trying to get back to relevancy, and [Thursday] made it happen. Expectations are always obviously winning and getting in the playoffs and getting our team better.”