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3 ideal free agent destinations for Lauri Markkanen

Lauri Markkanen, Spurs, Thunder, Heat

Big man Lauri Markkanen is one of the wild cards of the upcoming NBA free-agent period. A soon-to-be restricted free agent, Markkanen’s role with the Chicago Bulls has been all over the place recently.

Given them selecting Patrick Williams with the fourth pick in last year’s NBA Draft and acquiring star big man Nikola Vucevic at the trade deadline, the Bulls likely won’t match a long-term offer sheet for Markkanen. Whoever ends up with the University of Arizona product is getting a skilled offensive player.

Markkanen can sink jump shots from the perimeter and put the ball on the floor. Regarding the latter, he has been one of the better shooting big men in the sport in recent memory and a consistent all-around scorer. For his career, Markkanen is averaging 15.6 points and 7.1 rebounds per game while shooting 36.6 percent from beyond the arc.

Here are three ideal free agent destinations for Lauri Markkanen.

3) Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder have $40-plus million in cap space this offseason and roughly 100 draft selections over the next five years. Lauri Markkanen is a compelling option for their rebuild.

Yes, the Thunder have a handful of promising and/or talented young players, most notably Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. At the same time, head coach Mark Daigneault needs proven commodities and a foundation to establish itself, rather than merely having a lot of assets that don’t materialize into wins. Markkanen gives the Thunder an offensive presence in the frontcourt.

His ability to run around the paint gives Gilgeous-Alexander someone to kick the ball to. Meanwhile, Markkanen’s shooting ability will stretch the floor for forwards like Darius Bazley to have a clearer path at the rim. Inking a young player nowhere near his prime allows general manager Sam Presti to utilize some of his future picks in a major trade, whether it be trading up in this month’s NBA Draft or making a move for a disgruntled star.

Markkanen adds another toy to Oklahoma City’s bedroom. Why wouldn’t the Thunder make a move for him? They could opt to collect even more draft picks by taking on undesirable contracts, presumably filling up their cap space, and allow players like Aleksej Pokusevski, Kenrich Williams, and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (if retained) to get the playing time to grow more impactful and productive.

2) Miami Heat

The Heat have a lot of options this offseason, specifically in the backcourt. Another option they have is adding a big man who can stretch the floor to play next to Bam Adebayo. That big man is Lauri Markkanen.

Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro are going to continue to be isolation players and in Herro’s case an outside threat, too. Adebayo does a little bit of everything. There’s a lot of moving around in the halfcourt with the Heat, which is what makes Markkanen a savvy fit. His job would be to primarily stick jump shots from 15 feet and beyond. That said, Markkanen is entirely capable of scoring inside. His skill set adds more offensive variety to head coach Erik Spoelstra’s rotation.

If and when the Heat decline the team options on Goran Dragic and Andre Iguodala, they can sign Markkanen to a $15-20 million salary and still have the coin to make impact moves. That means re-signing Duncan Robinson or Kendrick Nunn and bringing in another backcourt player.

Miami can win the Eastern Conference with its foundation. It’s a matter of complementing the core in place. Markkanen does as such. What may prevent the big man from signing with the Heat, though, is them potentially preferring to add speed. Precious Achiuwa could also be in line for more minutes in his second NBA season.

1) San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs have a lot of speedy and productive guards. What they don’t have is a great deal of frontcourt scoring threats, especially with DeMar DeRozan hitting the open market. Lauri Markkanen would be a fantastic fit in head coach Gregg Popovich’s rotation.

The Spurs were 20th in the NBA in points per game (111.1) and field goal percentage (46.2 percent) and 24th in three-point shooting percentage (35.0 percent) last season. Markkanen’s strong suit aids the Spurs. He can be a featured part of their offense. With Dejounte Murray and Derrick White attacking the rack and a second defender helping out, Markkanen would be open for a midrange or three-point jump shot.

When the Spurs play in the halfcourt, they can go to Markkanen for a midrange shot over a smaller defender. With Jakob Poeltl being a respectable two-way inside player, the Spurs would have a sturdy inside duo. The two players wouldn’t be getting in the way of Murray, White, Keldon Johnson, and Lonnie Walker, who are adept at putting the ball on the floor and scoring. All the while, Drew Eubanks came on a bit towards the end of the regular season and Devin Vassell has a capable “three-and-d” skill set. This rotation would complement itself well.

Markkanen adds a specific skill set to their roster that they didn’t have last season, and he should gel with the young players the Spurs are leaning on for offense. He could be part of a sneaky 2021-22 Spurs team.