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Bulls looking for wins, but also to sell product to own free agents

Restricted free agent Lauri Markkanen could be walking this offseason, but there are at least two veteran free agents whom the Bulls would like to return.

The Bulls have just over three weeks left — 13 regular-season games — to try to sell their product, not just to fans but to their own players.

The team’s current payroll is just under $129 million. Next season, it drops to $96.3 million as they shed some long-awaited salary. Yes, that means finally getting out from under the four-year, $32 million deal the previous front office gave reserve big man Cristiano Felicio after the 2017 season.

But it also means possibly losing some players in free agency whom they actually covet and would use in significant roles.

Forward/center Daniel Theis, who’s making $5 million this season, is one of the toughest and most physical players on the team and has moved into the starting lineup. And despite some recent injury issues, veteran guard Garrett Temple has been a bargain at one year, $4.7 million.

Even Denzel Valentine has raised his stock this season, going from former coach Jim Boylen’s doghouse for most of last year to becoming a streaky shooter off the bench with 17.6 minutes and seven points per game.

But Theis and Temple are the two to watch. The Bulls have publicly said they’d like to have both back, with coach Billy Donovan making a pitch for Theis last week.

“With free agency coming up and guys having the opportunity to make their own decisions, I understand that,” Donovan said. “But [Theis is] someone we really like a lot and feel like could be . . . really good for us going forward.’’

But will Theis and Temple feel the Bulls are good for them? Their decisions will say a lot about how confident players are about the pieces in place and the Bulls’ plans.

The Bulls will have money to spend, especially if forward Lauri Markkanen gets a solid offer as a restricted free agent and the Bulls opt not to match it. Markkanen picked a great year for the market set a price on him, after most of the big names of what was supposed to be a historically great free-agent class already re-signed with their current teams. It’s possible there will be serious overpaying for players such as Markkanen and the Pelicans’ Lonzo Ball.

Brown back soon?

Wing player Troy Brown Jr.’s injured left ankle still wasn’t good enough for him to play Thursday against the Hornets, but the hope is he’ll be back at some point on the upcoming road trip. The Bulls play two games in Miami starting Saturday, then play in New York on Wednesday. Brown was becoming more valuable before the injury, adding minutes off the bench because of his stopper mentality.