Lauri Markkanen had been hoping free agency would bring a new opportunity and now he has it in Cleveland, writes K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago. Markkanen got the contract he was looking for — $67MM over four seasons — from the Cavaliers, who officially completed a three-team trade earlier today.
“I don’t think I’ve hit close to my ceiling yet,” Markkanen said after the deal was announced. “… The last couple years have been mentally pretty tough. I’ve grown as a person because of that, so I wouldn’t change it. I’ve learned a lot. But I just felt like I need to get back to the old me and how I know I can play the game. I think this is a good opportunity for me to do that.
“I’m happy. I’m really excited and looking forward. We kind of felt like I needed a fresh start. And I appreciate all the people who were involved to help facilitate it and make it happen.”
Markkanen once appeared to part of the foundation for a rebuilding Bulls team. He was included in the return when Chicago traded Jimmy Butler to Minnesota, and he earned first-team All-Rookie honors in 2018 after averaging 15.2 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. However, his next three seasons were filled with injuries that limited him to 52, 50 and 51 games.
Markkanen, who turned down an extension offer before the season began, ended his stay in Chicago coming off the bench regularly for the first time in his career. After the Bulls acquired centers Nikola Vučević and Daniel Theis at the trade deadline, coach Billy Donovan opted for a bigger, more rugged starting lineup.
“I think obviously I’m most disappointed we didn’t make the postseason one time when I was there. We tried our best obviously. That’s what we’re paid to do. It didn’t work out,” Markkanen said. “I think I had good moments as a player, and I had some inconsistencies. But I’m looking ahead.”
Markkanen is entering another rebuilding situation with the Cavaliers, who went 22-50 last season and landed the third overall pick in the draft. At age 24, he will be one of the more experienced players in an organization filled with young talent. Markkanen will likely move back into a starting role in Cleveland, and he believes he’s joining the franchise at a good time.
“I think I fit in well — young core, exciting point guards. I’m looking forward to playing with those big guys in the frontcourt. They’re all young, talented guys. I think we can grow together,” Markkanen said. “And I can’t wait to learn from a player like Kevin Love. Just learn aspects of the game from him and the mentality of the game, how he approaches it. I’m looking forward to that as well.”