Bulls, Lauri Markkanen Far Apart in Extension Talks Ahead of Deadline

Bulls, Markkanen far apart in extension talks ahead of deadline originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

The Bulls’ recent history in negotiating player contract extensions is well documented.

There’s the occasional no-brainer move like giving Derrick Rose a maximum extension following him becoming the youngest most valuable player in league history. They’ve also hit on rookie extensions in the examples of Kirk Hinrich, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng.

But ownership and management also have taken hard-line stances, particularly when it owns the players’ rights. Zach LaVine had to go get an offer sheet from the Sacramento Kings in restricted free agency to get paid. A similar take-it-or-leave-it approach greeted Ben Gordon, Nikola Mirotić and Jimmy Butler.

During Artūras Karnišovas’ time in Denver, the Nuggets front office operated at a different frequency. They inked Jamal Murray to a five-year, maximum extension of his rookie contract in the summer of 2019, one offseason before he could have entered restricted free agency. The year prior, they declined a $1.6 million team option on Nikola Jokić’s then bargain deal to preserve matching rights, then extended him on a five-year max. In October 2017, Gary Harris, like Murray, signed a lucrative extension before the start of the expiring season of his rookie-scale contract.

It appears Karnišovas’ first extension negotiation as Bulls’ executive vice president of basketball operations will more closely mirror the former approach.

Barring a dramatic change on Monday's deadline day, Lauri Markkanen will be joining the ranks of restricted free agency next offseason. Talks on his rookie extension continued Sunday but sputtered on life support. Sources said the gap remains wide.

Even if Markkanen regressed last season, the Bulls’ stance is a risky one. Butler proved that to them when he famously cost the Bulls $50 million after betting on himself and winning the NBA’s Most Improved Player.

Beyond that, the 2021 offseason is suddenly filled with teams who saved ample salary cap space to take a swing at a potentially massively talented free agent class. And several of the big names have inked extensions.

That leaves a lot of teams with a lot of money who potentially could structure a large offer sheet for Markkanen. Granted, the Bulls own the right to match it. And Butler’s example showed they gladly will do so to reward production.

But big business or not, the other risky element is the human side to negotiations. Through his actions and words, Markkanen made it clear how badly he wanted to finalize an extension. He even told reporters that he planned to pressure his agent to get a deal done.

Markkanen fully committed to the new management regime this offseason, limiting his time in his native Finland and attending the voluntary September workouts a month before his family grew with the addition of his second child.

One got the sense Markkanen even would take somewhat of a hometown discount in exchange for long-term security and his family’s happiness in Chicago.

Particularly after Markkanen’s difficult 2019-20 season and injury issues throughout his first three seasons, it’s certainly the Bulls’ prerogative to take a hard-line stance on negotiations. And the other extension examples, both in Chicago and Denver, aren't necessarily an apples-to-apples comparison since each negotiation represents varying levels of player production and is unique.

But Karnišovas publicly declared that the organization likes Markkanen and would make every effort to finalize a deal because he wanted him to “be part of this organization for a long time.” And if Markkanen doesn’t feel much give-and-take occurred in negotiations, whether that has lingering effects will be an intriguing storyline to monitor. Particularly after Karnišovas and general manager Marc Eversley emphasized their player-first organizational approach.

Markkanen isn’t a boat rocker. He’s professional. He has publicly expressed his excitement for how coach Billy Donovan plans to utilize him, and his aggressive play in preseason is an encouraging sign.

His goal to bounce back from last season remains intact. It goes beyond money.

But when business and basketball mix, it can sometimes get messy. Without a last-minute change in negotiations, it’s up to Markkanen with his play and the Bulls with their future actions to clean it up.

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