The Chicago Bulls are playing a dangerous game with star free agent Zach LaVine, per a new report from The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor. LaVine is viewed as one of four top-tier free agents by The Athletic’s John Hollinger.
LaVine is the fourth and final member of that tier. But he is the only one of the four who is unrestricted – the other three all hold player options.
ESPN 1000’s David Kaplan reported that some within the organization questioned whether or not LaVine had the requisite “dog mentality” to warrant such an investment. The Chicago Sun-Times’ Joe Cowley reported the Bulls would “take the leap of faith”
And yet, there still appears to be some consternation in the Bulls front office over his value.
A Few Dollars Short
O’Connor was appearing on “The Bill Simmons Podcast” when he dropped a mini-bombshell on unsuspecting Bulls fans. Despite LaVine being one of the premier free agents available, the Bulls initially offered LaVine less than a full max contract.
The two were discussing what the Portland Trail Blazers were doing this offseason when LaVine’s name came up.
Simmons asked O’Connor why it seemed like LaVine may be available now.
“I was told that the Bulls weren’t initially offering the full max. And so, there was actually negotiation happening.”
That would seem to be a major roadblock to keeping LaVine in Chicago for “years to come” as Bulls vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas said during his exit interview.
LaVine has also made clear that he wants his “respect” during his exit interview.
“It’s important to me. But you get paid what you’re valued at. I see myself as a top guy in this league, and I think I’ve proven that over the last four years. And I think that’s what we’re going to negotiate. I think that’s what Marc (Eversley), [Artūras Karnišovas], that’s what they and Rich are going to have to discuss.”
LaVine Changed Bulls’ Opinions
Action Network’s Matt Moore reported that league sources “felt” Karnisovas was not initially sold on LaVine as a player. Karnisovas inherited the guard when he took over and has since moved on from everyone from that roster but LaVine and Coby White.
White could be on the move this summer. But LaVine earned his keep in Karnisovas’ eye, per Moore.
It should be noted that league insiders felt Karnisovas had held a skeptical view of LaVine when he took the job with the Bulls, but of course, LaVine’s emergence as a near-All-NBA level guard has shifted that somewhat.
O’Connor did say that the Bulls’ stance has since changed. But they still may not be in the clear after trying to play hardball.
“I think that’s changed…the offer will be the max. But whether LaVine takes that, or not, that remains to be seen.”
To O’Connor’s point, LaVine told Yahoo Sports’ Vincent Goodwill that he would keep his 2018 restricted free agency in mind this time around. Trying to low-ball him could be all the impetus he needs to spurn the Bulls for a team that rolls the red carpet out in free agency.
The Blazers and San Antonio Spurs could both come up with enough money to throw at LaVine.
San Antonio, in particular, can push Texas’ lack of a state income tax to help offset the $50-plus million LaVine would be leaving on the table if he just walked.
No Shortage of Takers
O’Connor and Simmons agreed that LaVine is as plug-and-play as they come with both noting how good he would be on the Golden State Warriors in the Finals and even the Philadelphia 76ers.
“If you’re Zach LaVine, there’s definitely a lot of teams that would want a young scorer in his mid-20s who can play with and without the ball…LaVine could have been plugged in onto literally contender in basketball.”
Hollinger added more context to remind everyone of just how good LaVine can be when healthy.
LaVine played the second half of this season on one leg prior to his left knee surgery in May, and as a result, this valuation likely came in a bit lower than you might have expected. On the other hand, the knee issue is something every team will want to do their due diligence on; you’ll recall that LaVine tore the ACL in the same knee in 2017.
LaVine had successful surgery on the knee on May 24 and is expected to make a full recovery. Karnisovas said that he did not expect the injury to factor into negotiations even before the procedure was scheduled.
If not health, then why hold off on the max?
Part of the Business
The simplest answer is often the right one in complicated matters. For both sides, there has been a lot of public negotiation. But Cowley also revealed that the Bulls would pivot towards a defensive build should LaVine want to go elsewhere.
It is a topic that was broached by Cowley during Karnisovas’ exit interview.
Karnisovas said that the front office was aware of the current roster’s shortcomings. That probably does not include LaVine. But the guard could be used as an asset to bring back the pieces to make that a reality.
Despite consistent reports that the Bulls are the front-runners and likeliest to have LaVine in their jersey next season, this saga is still far from over.