Can the San Antonio Spurs lure away Lauri Markkanen this offseason?

Lauri Markkanen (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Lauri Markkanen (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

It’s looking more likely that the San Antonio Spurs will be in their usual holding pattern through this trade season, as rumors surrounding LaMarcus Aldridge and other veterans are dying down. While this may be frustrating for some, much of the Spurs’ reluctance seems to have come from not wanting to take on a bad contract to dampen their big spending money this offseason.

There’s no question the Spurs’ front office has struck some contracts they later regretted, such as the one given to Pau Gasol. It’s hard to blame them for wanting to make sure they remain one of the teams with the most to spend heading into next season.

Will San Antonio be able to land a franchise-level player through free agency or a trade? Probably not. All trends point to the Spurs continuing to home-grow their team and signing mid guys they can plug into their efficient system. With the help of some expert drafting over the last few years, the Spurs are certainly more attractive of a destination than they were last season for guys that want to win.

One name linked to San Antonio a few times in recent months has been Chicago Bulls power forward Lauri Markkanen. Now in his fourth season, the 23-year-old from Finland is having the best shooting season of his career. Through 21 games played, Markkanen is averaging 18.2 points per game while shooting 49.3 percent from the field and 40.1 percent from downtown.

Markannen’s 3-point accuracy would put him above anyone but Devin Vassell (41 percent) on this year’s Spurs. What makes this more impressive is the fact that he’s a seven-footer, which would give San Antonio its first-ever seven-footer capable of knocking down the long-ball.

Can the San Antonio Spurs lure Lauri Markkanen from Chicago?

Lauri Markkanen is currently making $6.7 million on the last year of his contract. This summer, he’ll be a restricted free agent, meaning any team can sign him to an offer sheet that the Bulls must match, or they’ll lose him.

In Zach Lowe’s recent column for ESPN (subscription required), he specifically brought up the Spurs as a team with cap room that Chicago might have to contend with.

Last December, this Forbes article pointed out that the Bulls and Markkanen were never close to reaching an extension agreement, as the young forward still had something to prove after an injury-plagued season.

Markkanen has some defensive issues to compound his injury problems, which would scare Chicago away from spending too much to retain him when they can reload in the open market or the next draft.

According to Project Spurs’ Paul Garcia, San Antonio can offer up to the $28.1 million max:

IF the Spurs sent an offer sheet to Markkanen, they could offer an amount UP TO the $28.1 million max:

— Paul Garcia (@PaulGarciaNBA) March 22, 2021

Of course, the Spurs won’t offer anywhere near that number for his services, especially if they have a similar player with better defensive instincts waiting in the wings in Luka Samanic.

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If I’m the Spurs, my priority would be obtaining an athletic big man that can move well on defense. Jakob Poeltl is already a superior defensive presence, but his lack of an offensive game can be a liability.

In my opinion, Lauri Markkanen should only be considered if San Antonio doesn’t have to break the bank for him and other options like John Collins fall through. Still, the Spurs could certainly do worse than obtaining a seven-footer that can shoot threes and free throws at a high rate, especially in a system built on good spacing.

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If Chicago doesn’t deal Markkanen this week, don’t be surprised if San Antonio makes him an offer in a few months.