The 2020-2021 regular season has come to an end, and the NBA playoffs are underway, without the Chicago Bulls for what is now the fourth consecutive year.
Despite their mid-season trade for two-time All-Star Nikola Vucevic, they came up short once again, at 31-41.
This also means that at no point throughout his seven-year career has Zach LaVine appeared in a playoff game.
But more importantly, now that all eight first-round playoff series have played at least one game, he’s now the NBA leader in regular-season games played without a playoff appearance:
All of Alex Len, Elfrid Payton, and Julius Randle are active in a playoff series this postseason.
But for the seventh consecutive year, LaVine will spend his postseason as a non-participant.
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Given the COVID-19 nature of this season and all the implications that go with that (less practice time, players randomly going on extended absence, shorter season) the Chicago Bulls deserve a pass for their shortcomings.
But that won’t be the case if they miss the playoff once again next year.
As most fans know, Zach LaVine is headed into the last year of his four-year/$80-million contract.
Chicago’s expected to engage him on extension talks this offseason, but as A. Sherrod Blakeley of Bleacher Report wrote months ago, the expectation is he won’t commit this summer:
That’s why rival executives anticipate the Bulls will try to lock up LaVine with a contract extension (he will make $19.5 million this season and next) but know he’ll likely let his deal lapse, become an unrestricted free agent and sign what will be a more lucrative multiyear max pact.
LaVine talked about his frustrations with not making the playoffs once again (via NBC Sports) after a loss to the Brooklyn Nets that would prove the final blow on the Bulls’ postseason hopes:
We put ourselves in this boat. Obviously, I’m riding along in it. So it’s upsetting and you gotta be accountable. It sucks, though. Obviously, I want to be in the playoffs and be on that stage. Obviously, we’re just not there yet.
And he reaffirmed his very public goals of making the playoffs, now delayed another season:
I’ve been making strides each and every year. I’m going to continue to do that. But it’s not about me. I would love to have just the opportunity to go out there and play and compete and showcase what I can do on a bigger stage. I’m going to get there. But we just have to work for it.
It’s clear that this current roster isn’t enough, at least not without the necessary time and practice it takes to coalesce as a unit and develop the chemistry so many contenders are displaying now in the playoffs.
Arturas Karnisovas and the Chicago Bulls front office will have all summer to change that.
Because in Zach LaVine, they’ve got a top-scorer in today’s game, who will very soon be looking for a new deal.
It’s an opportunity they can’t afford to squander.
And notably, yet another category in which the All-Star leads the league.
LaVine: ‘I Want What I Deserve’
Just a week ago, NBC Sports’ Rob Schaefer wrote on Zach LaVine’s exit interview comments and pending extension.
In that, he dropped a statistic that frames perfectly why the All-Star is adamant about getting paid top dollar:
Excluding players on rookie contracts (Luka Dončić, Zion Williamson, Trae Young, Collin Sexton), LaVine is the only player of the league’s top 28 scorers this season scheduled to make less than $20 million in 2021-22.
You can trust that this statistic will be discussed in any extension talks had between LaVine, his representation, and the team this offseason.