When the Bulls tipped off their season on December 23rd, Coby White was the starting point guard and Lauri Markkanen was a roster cornerstone. Then, 36 games later, both were coming off the bench.
The coaching staff decided to turn to veteran players Tomas Satoransky and Thaddeus Young, and after a 16-20 start (and some specific issues) it was tough to blame them. Meanwhile, the front office decided a couple of weeks later to make their first big roster moves. Both decisions put a big fat question mark next to White and Markkanen’s future with the Bulls. The acquisition of Nikola Vucevic added a versatile big-man with no natural fit next to Markkanen. And while the Bulls didn’t add a true point guard to replace White, the decision to turn to the more pass-happy option off the bench, combined with the heavy trade rumors around Lonzo Ball, made it pretty clear that the White hadn’t passed the test.
“I still believe they’re core guys,” Billy Donovan told reporters after the Bulls 122-113 victory over the Toronto Raptors. “I still think they are extremely important pieces to our team.”
Perhaps that’s true now, but for how long will it stay that way?
Combining for 28 points against the Pacers and 33 points against the Raptors, respectively, there is no question Markkanen and White can play a pivotal role in this team’s playoff push. Both players have starting experience and possess intriguing high-upside offensive talent. If they’re on their game, it will be difficult for a number of second units to stop. The problem, however, is that neither were supposed to be in this spot to begin with. Both players were supposed to perform at a higher level, which makes it hard to judge what their success means.
For White, I’m stuck wondering how invested the front office truly is in his development. By throwing him in the starting point guard position and not targeting any relief in the offseason, if sure felt like this organization had a lot of trust in his future fit. Although, now that he’s failed the test, it’s hard not to think at least some of that trust has waned. Can they ever really see him becoming a starting piece with LaVine involved? Probably not. But, in all fairness to them, that doesn’t mean they have given up on White long-term.
White still can be a “core guy” as he settles into that spot-starter, sixth-man role. Not to mention, at 21-years-old in the midst of a crazy second year with two additional years left on his contract, there is literally no reason not to continue investing in his all-around growth. Markkanen, on the other hand, is where things have run dry.
It’s weird to watch Markkanen have strong nights knowing what we know about the trade deadline. The Bulls were reportedly seeking a trade for the big man who is headed toward restricted free agency this offseason. So while his contributions might be encouraging for the team’s immediate success, it’s unlikely that they will have a significant impact on his future in Chicago.
Again, his fit next to Vucevic doesn’t make much sense. He can’t make up for Vucevic’s defensive issues, and he also doesn’t contribute anything the big man can’t do himself on the offensive end. Then, on a broader level, the Bulls need for him as a scorer has just gone way down. We also can’t forget that Patrick Williams is gunning for his job. The rookie has the versatility to play both forward positions, but he’s looked most comfortable at the four. And considering Williams is this organization’s first hand-picked talent, we know they will do whatever they can to put him in the best position to succeed.
In other words, all signs point to the marriage between Markkanen and the Bulls ending this offseason. But I don’t think that means we can’t still appreciate him for his efforts over the remainder of the season. The bigger role he plays in the playoff push, the higher his price tag in the offseason could become, and that means the Bulls return in a possible sign-and-trade situation could look even better. I’ll take that!