Bulls trade forward Lauri Markkanen to Cavaliers in three-team deal

The Bulls acquired high-flying forward Derrick Jones Jr. from the Trail Blazers and two draft picks — one lottery-protected — in return.

SHARE Bulls trade forward Lauri Markkanen to Cavaliers in three-team deal
The Bulls sent Lauri Markkanen to the Cavaliers in a three-team trade on Friday.

The Bulls sent Lauri Markkanen to the Cavaliers in a three-team trade on Friday.

Andy Clayton-King/AP

High-flying forward Derrick Jones Jr. wasn’t just on the Bulls’ radar for well more than a year; he was in their plans. The unknown was how the Bulls would make it happen.

On Friday, the path to acquiring him presented itself.

A source confirmed the Bulls had acquired Jones, a 2022 lottery-protected first-round pick from the Trail Blazers and a 2023 second-round pick from the Cavaliers in a three-way trade that sent disgruntled forward Lauri Markkanen to the Cavs. The Blazers will get forward Larry Nance Jr. from the Cavs.

The deal not only puts an end to a Markkanen saga that had dragged on for months, but it gives the Bulls some much-needed athleticism in the frontcourt they had been seeking for some time.

The Bulls’ old front office had scouts looking at adding Jones to the roster in the spring of 2020. Even when the old regime was broken apart, former vice president of basketball operations John Paxson was retained as an adviser, and the scouting notes the Bulls had on Jones stayed in-house.

Not only was the 6-5 Jones being coveted for his defense, but having another former slam-dunk champion to pair with guard Zach LaVine is never a bad thing for a team that wants to get out and push the ball in transition.

And the kicker in the deal? If Jones doesn’t prove to be the player the Bulls thought they were getting, they can walk away from him next offseason because of his expiring contract.

On Friday, however, the Bulls walked away from Markkanen, the No. 7 overall pick in the 2017 draft. Since being selected out of Arizona, Markkanen had proved to be an enigma. He showed an All-Star ceiling but lacked consistency.

In his defense, Markkanen — an outside-shooting big man — went through three coaching changes with the Bulls, and life under former coach Jim Boylen seemed to zap him of what was left of his passion. Several times under Boylen, Markkanen privately let reporters know he wasn’t happy with his role in the offense and was looking to go elsewhere.

His desire to leave appeared to go away when the Bulls hired coach Billy Donovan, who runs a ball-movement-friendly offense that would seem to fit Markkanen perfectly. When it didn’t, however, the Bulls took Markkanen out of the starting lineup and gave him a new role as a reserve.

He became a restricted free agent this offseason, so it only seemed to be a matter of time before he would land elsewhere. But the market toward him was cool, with a source indicating many teams were concerned about his passion for the game and turned off by the idea of meeting his contract demand of close to $20 million per season.

The Cavs are expected to pay Markkanen $67 million over four seasons and hope he can take over Kevin Love’s role when Love’s all-but-immovable deal expires after the 2022-23 season.

As for the Bulls, dealing Markkanen is yet another reminder of how disastrous the Jimmy Butler trade/rebuild plan really was. They sent Butler to the Timberwolves in June 2017 for point guard Kris Dunn, the draft rights to Markkanen and LaVine.

Only LaVine remains on the roster, while Butler has gone on to reach the postseason with three teams since he left, including the NBA Finals with the Heat in 2020. 

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