This summer is going to be significant to the Chicago Bulls and star guard Zach LaVine, an unrestricted free agent this summer. One eastern conference executive tells Heavy’s Sean Deveney that this decision is all but made.
“There is no way they consider letting him walk”
Simple enough, right? But the executive did not stop there, citing several key factors that will “make the whole thing easier” for both sides.
“He’s probably not going to make All-NBA because he took a backseat to DeMar DeRozan and that was unselfish because it will cost him money. He won’t get the supermax….the Bulls won’t have to worry about going too high to overpay him.”
It isn’t just about the Bulls’ comfort, though, as the executive points out.
“He’s still one of their anchor guys. There is no way they consider letting him walk, and he does not want to walk.”
Acts of Sacrifice
LaVine made his first All-Star team a season ago after putting up 27.4 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 4.9 assists while shooting 50.9% from the floor and 41.9% from downtown all of which are career-highs.
He also earned a gold medal at the 2020 Olympics with Team USA Men’s Basketball.
The eighth-year guard could have easily come into this season looking to improve upon his own status around the league as has been his reputation in the past.
Instead, he embraced a new lead dog in DeRozan as the latter obliterated preseason predictions for his and LaVine’s fit. And as the executive points out, he was costing himself some money on the open market as most kept focus on him wanting “what I’m worth”.
His numbers took the hit. But he was still one of just three players to average at least 24 points while shooting 47% from the floor and 38% from beyond the arc this season. The other two are Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets and LaVine’s former teammate in Karl-Anthony Towns of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
In a season in which he conceded a few things to his teammates, he did not give up the ball to opponents as often averaging just 2.6 turnovers per game, his fewest since 2018.
On the Books
A supermax deal would have cost the Bulls $248 million over five years, per CBS Sports’ Sam Quinn. Getting LaVine at less than the supermax is not the same as suggesting that he won’t get a max deal — he almost certainly will.
When asked whether it is max-contract-or-bust, LaVine answered somewhat cryptically in an interview with Yahoo Sports’ Vincent Goodwill in February.
“I think we all get what we deserve at the level we play at, for our team and around the league. I think I stack up with everybody at that level,” he said. “We’ll let the chips fall. Is the [max] the goal? I don’t know if it’s the goal, but I should be getting what I deserve.”
That is expected to be a five-year deal worth $210 million, per Quinn.
If he were to go elsewhere, he is looking at $163 million over four years, adding to the incentive for LaVine to remain in Chicago.
He is the only player of significance that the Bulls will need to address this offseason.
Their only other rotation players heading for free agency are forwards Derrick Jones Jr and Tristan Thompson. But Nikola Vucevic is heading into the final season of his contract while DeRozan, Lonzo Ball, and Alex Caruso are the only players currently under contract beyond the 2023 season.
LaVine has averaged 19.0 points on 40.6% shooting while knocking down 35.7% of his threes, hauling in 5.5 rebounds, and 3.0 assists through two postseason games. He posted an 18-point, 10-rebound double-double in his playoff debut in Game 1.
He was very efficient in his follow-up effort in Game 2, scoring 20 points on 53.8% shooting and connecting on 3-of-4 threes after hitting just 2-of-10 in the series opener.
It wasn’t just the raw numbers for LaVine that were impressive, either. NBA lifer Steve Jones Jr. praised LaVine on his podcast, “The Dunker Spot”.
“Zach LaVine…was incredibly important with his aggression to see the drop, attack the drop, and finish. Then I’m going to mix in some passes to Vucevic. And then I’m going to mix in some pull-ups.”
LaVine’s shot diet and overall decision-making have been under scrutiny for some time.
His stint with Team USA showed he can lock in on the less glamorous parts of the game. But, as he has dealt with a knee injury throughout the back half of the season, the murmurs have naturally returned along with questions around his value on the open market.
Per NBC Sports Chicago’s K.C. Johnson, that is nonsense with LaVine in a contract year.
Judging from the tone of this executive, the feeling around the league is that LaVine will be in a Chicago Bulls uniform for the foreseeable future.