Make no mistake, Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine got what he deserved. LaVine’s steady progression since his arrival into a two-time All-Star is a testament to his dedication and the hard work that he puts in. But things are about to get real for the former 13th-overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.
“LaVine never has flinched when discussing pressure,” writes Joe Cowley for the Chicago Sun-Times. “If anything, he has welcomed those situations as obstacles that needed to be overcome to get to where he wanted to go.
Cowley goes on, however, to send an ominous warning for LaVine and, perhaps, fans about the expectations that come along with his new-found financial status.
The Bulls gave LaVine the richest contract in franchise history this summer at $215 million.
Cowley: ‘Title-or-Bust’ for LaVine
“Becoming the 17th-highest-paid player in the NBA when he’s not even the best player on his team,” suggests Cowley, “will be uncharted territory. There are expectations with max players — all-or-nothing expectations that far too often are unobtainable. It’s NBA title-or-bust for LaVine as a Bull.”
Bulls pecking order aside, this does echo sentiments shared by The Athletic’s Darnell Mayberry earlier this offseason in the wake of the deal.
For his part, LaVine has maintained that nothing has changed as far as he is concerned.
“People really don’t have to worry about that side, ’cause I think for me, I have my own bucket list and checklists and things that I want to accomplish for myself,” LaVine told Natasha Dye of People Magazine. “You know, I continue to go out there and play the way I am, have been, continue to, to try to lead the team to wins and get deeper and deeper into the playoffs.”
As Cowley notes earlier of LaVine’s mindset, that’s great. But his resolve will be tested.
“Max players don’t get excuses. Max players aren’t allowed to be one-and-done in the playoffs. Max players face scrutiny from media and fans on a nightly basis,” Cowley insists before later continuing, “with that lavish compensation comes a level of scrutiny that LaVine has never had to deal with. Ready or not.”
LaVine Has Been Working this Offseason
To LaVine’s credit, he is putting action behind his words and continuing to develop his already strong game. He has been in the gym frequently with trainer Drew Hanlen and working on a part of his game the Bulls have been urged to feature more: catch-and-shoot.
LaVine is already a great scorer, though. The knock on him has been on the other end where his awareness has not always been up to snuff.
He is acutely aware of that too.
“I wanted to take it a step further with my playmaking and my effort on defense,” LaVine said during “Hoop Streams” on ESPN. “Just try and become the player that [can do] whatever the team needs to win.”
Again to LaVine’s credit, Cowley acknowledges a new level of intensity from LaVine to begin last season. But a knee injury that he needed to have arthroscopic surgery put an end to that. Finally healthy once again, it stands to reason that we could see a return to the improved defensive acumen he first displayed in helping Team USA win gold.
LaVine’s Continued Improvement is Key
Money aside, LaVine also represents the bridge between this current Bulls group and the one that will eventually (they hope) be a title contender. How long it takes to turn them into the latter will largely be up to the front office.
But LaVine can certainly help the process along simply by becoming the best version of himself — dangerous with the ball, deadly off of it, and an attentive defender.
If he can do that this season, then it’s possible we see the peak version of his group.