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Wherever Bulls forward Lauri Markkanen plays next season, he wants to start

The restricted free agent said he is not dwelling on whether he’ll be back with the Bulls next season, but he did make it clear that he sees himself as a starter and wants to return to that role.

Wherever he winds up playing next season, Lauri Markkanen sees himself as a starter.
Wherever he winds up playing next season, Lauri Markkanen sees himself as a starter.
Nam Y. Huh/AP

Forward Lauri Markkanen will have plenty of time to think about his future, especially if the Bulls keep fading away from the play-in tournament and their season is wrapped up on May 16.

That’s when the restricted free agent can start figuring out if he has played his last game for the organization that acquired his draft rights in the 2017 Jimmy Butler trade and anointed him a future pillar of the franchise.

“Nah, I haven’t thought about that at all,’’ Markkanen said Monday. “I let all that kind of stuff happen after the season. I can’t focus on that.

‘‘Just trying to make this play-in spot, and that’s my focus right now. Like I said, I’m going to give it all I have, and I’m not thinking about the future right now. I can’t control that, so I don’t know.’’

Markkanen would like to control which role he plays next season, whether it’s with the Bulls or elsewhere if the team decides not to match the price the market sets for him this summer.

A starter when healthy until this season, Markkanen has maintained that he sees himself as a starter despite losing that spot after the All-Star break.

So wherever he signs, he wants it to be clear that he envisions himself in that first unit.

“I still feel that way,’’ Markkanen said. “I said it back when my role changed and I went on the second unit. I said that then, and I still stand by it.

‘‘I understand the situation right now, and, like I said, I’m not thinking about the future. Just going day by day.’’

The Bulls were talking about moving Markkanen at the March 25 trade deadline but didn’t get offers they felt were worth the value.

They also believed that with the additions they made to the frontcourt — Nikola Vucevic and Daniel Theis — keeping Markkanen with the second unit would only help their playoff push with the new-look roster.

Obviously, little has gone as expected.

With limited practice time because of the condensed schedule, the team never found a rhythm. As for Markkanen, his inconsistencies were only magnified as he seemed to disappear for long stretches in his new role.

“Start of the season, I got the COVID thing, so I couldn’t play, and then I felt like I was playing well for a month-and-a-half period before I got hurt [shoulder injury],’’ Markkanen said. ‘‘Kind of found my rhythm there, and then you sit out.

‘‘And then we got a little bit different team and playing the three, so it’s been a lot of new stuff. But, like every year, you have your good moments, and you have your bad stuff happening.’’

Good and bad moments that soon could be ending with the Bulls.

Hip check

Vucevic missed his second consecutive game Monday with a sore hip. The good news is all of his scans have come back clean.

“There’s nothing significant there,’’ coach Billy Donovan said. “He obviously has some soreness. He’s still feeling it.’’

The Bulls are off until Thursday, when they play the Hornets in Charlotte.