Should Celtics pursue Lauri Markkanen in restricted free agency?


Danny Ainge has hinted that offseason changes are coming after the Boston Celtics' underwhelming 2020-21 regular season.

Might Lauri Markkanen be on his wish list?

The Chicago Bulls big man told NBC Sports Chicago's K.C. Johnson he plans to test restricted free agency this summer.

"My thing is I think I’ve always been a team-first guy. And I think now it’s time to look at the business side of the game," Markkanen told Johnson. "I feel like I’m only 23 years old and I have a lot of basketball ahead of me. It’s a good opportunity to look what’s out there for me. I can be a focal point. I think I have a lot more to offer."

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Markkanen turned down the Bulls' contract extension offer prior to the season, so it sounds like he's considering moving on from Chicago. After averaging career lows in points (13.6), rebounds (5.3) and assists (0.9) in his fourth NBA season despite career bests in field goal percentage (48%) and 3-point percentage (40.2%), the No. 7 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft may feel like his talents are best utilized elsewhere.

Markkanen is an intriguing possibility for the Celtics, who sought "shooting with size" prior to the NBA trade deadline. Boston's tallest rotation player (Tristan Thompson) is only 6-foot-9, so the C's desperately could use some height in addition to the quality outside shooting Markkanen would provide.

The Bulls can match any team's offer sheet for Markkanen in restricted free agency, so the Celtics would have to offer Markkanen a significant deal. Considering they're currently projected to be about $22 million over the salary cap in 2021-22, some other roster maneuvering may be required to bring Markkanen in.

It's clear that Boston needs more scoring depth outside Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, though. The 23-year-old Markkanen has a high ceiling in that department, so Ainge and Co. should at least explore adding the Finland native if the price is right.

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