Things could get very interesting for the Chicago Bulls once free agency opens up on July 1 if NBA correspondent Marc Stein is accurate. The Bulls already had some rough news leak with a report from ESPN 1000’s David Kaplan on Lonzo Ball’s balky knee.
Lavar Ball joined Kaplan on the “ReKap” podcast and downplayed the severity of his son’s knee issue, adding that he will be ready for the start of next season.
Ball also suggested that Zach LaVine is not thrilled with playing “second-fiddle” to DeMar DeRozan. It was a line of thinking that was roundly criticized since he suggested the Bulls would replace LaVine – who he says will go to the Los Angeles Lakers – with his son, LiAngelo Ball.
That is until Stein threw fuel on the fire with his May 20 installment of “The Stein Line”.
Chicago, We (May) Have a Problem
The expectation all along has been for LaVine to take full advantage of his first foray into free agency with the Bulls’ intention being to make it his last for a long time. Stein’s report casts doubt on that plan and he even lends credibility to what Ball said.
“Mr. Ball…has just boldly stated what had been quietly surmised in recent weeks about LaVine potentially chafing from all the praise DeMar DeRozan received this season.”
There was a tweet from Basketball Forever on May 3 that also suggested LaVine was none too pleased with being overtaken in the pecking order this season. He scored 3.0 fewer points on 1.7 fewer shot attempts during the regular season.
And, as NBC Sports Chicago’s K.C. Johnson pointed out, few teams have legitimate means of creating enough space to sign LaVine.
“Only the Trail Blazers possess the ability to clear a max salary-cap slot. Even that would take several cost- and asset-cutting moves. Teams like the Lakers would need to execute a sign-and-trade, which would be complicated.”
Johnson did acknowledge, however, that LaVine’s return “no longer is considered the slam dunk it once was”.
Losing LaVine a Double-Edged Sword
Stein made clear just how much this decision means to Bulls vice president of basketball operations, Arturas Karnisovas. His moves over the past two seasons have largely been in an effort to placate LaVine, writes Stein.
“It would be a tough outcome for Bulls GM Arturas Karnišovas if LaVine indeed tries to force his way elsewhere after Chicago made three significant trades to acquire Nikola Vučević, Lonzo Ball, and DeRozan with the hope of securing LaVine’s long-term commitment.”
LaVine did make note of the front office’s aggressiveness in his exit interview.
Still, Johnson explained that there is some belief around the league that the Bulls may not offer LaVine the full max which could drive him away.
But he goes on to say that the words of Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, who said the team would go into the luxury tax to contend, paint a different picture entirely for LaVine and a max contract.
“The Bulls know that losing LaVine for nothing would be a significant blow from both a basketball and business standpoint. The latter isn’t insignificant for a franchise that, according to several season-ticket holders, recently raised ticket prices for the first time in years.”
Further complicating the matter, the Bulls would not gain cap space if LaVine were to sign with the Trail Blazers.
They would essentially be left with this year’s team minus the talented guard.
No Room for ‘Plan B’
There has been a flurry of sign-and-trade proposals since the season ended and LaVine left the door open for a potential exit from Chicago. And, as a Klutch Sports client, the expectation is that he will get whatever it is that he wants.
In the NBA, that is more often than not in the form of salary. LaVine said he did not know if getting a max deal would be a requirement for him but did say that he wants his respect on the open market.
The Bulls could do a lot by simply putting that max offer out there for him immediately and not looking back.