It is only natural that, with a little more than a month to go before the start of free agency, there is much consternation in Chicago about the state of play between the organization and star guard Zach LaVine, whose impending free agency once appeared to be of little issue for the Bulls. LaVine repeatedly said he was happy in Chicago, he spoke often about how thrilled he was to share the spotlight with forward DeMar DeRozan, and the team was prepared to hand over piles and piles of cash, which he would readily accept.
Ah, but cracks in that expected sequence of events have emerged. Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer reported that LaVine might not have been so thrilled with being No. 2 on the org chart behind DeRozan. TMZ nabbed LaVine saying he’s always been a “big fan” of the Lakers, sending a tingle down the spines of purple-and-gold fans everywhere, and it’s been reported that the Mavericks are “enamored” of LaVine. Many around the NBA have cautioned us to pump the brakes on the inevitability of LaVine returning to the Bulls—even LaVar Ball said LaVine was bound for Los Angeles, so it’s got to be true.
It is a lot of smoke, but no fire, yet. And you’ve got to hand it to the behind-the-scenes folks: They’ve created some late-spring entertainment, some buzz around LaVine. In the end, make no mistake, though. Most expect LaVine back in Chicago.
“Business as usual,” one Eastern Conference general manager said. “The Bulls can give him more money. They can give him a chance to go to the playoffs every year. If he is not the No. 1 option, he is 1A and that is going to be the case in just about any place he goes if he is serious about leaving. Portland is out there as a possibility for him, and if he leaves, that is the only place where it would make any sense. But would he shoot more than Damian Lillard there? Of course not. It’s a lateral move, or even a step down a bit.”
LaVine-Bulls Situation: Blame the Agents
So, what is really happening here, then?
“A lot of this is coming from the agents, where they want to not only get him paid but raise his profile at the same time,” one league source told Heavy.com. “That is their M.O. The more drama in the process, the better. No one was talking about Zach. Now everyone is. Mission accomplished.”
The agents mentioned are those from Klutch Sports, which has star clients like LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Trae Young and, yes, LaVine’s Bulls teammate, Lonzo Ball. The latest round of chatter around LaVine likely has more to do with Klutch angling to make sure that LaVine keeps his old as the top Bulls star going forward. That’s likely to be the case without this wave of late-May drama, given that DeRozan turns 33 in August and is not likely to repeat the kind of season he just put forth, with a career-high in scoring (27.9 points) and the second-best shooting (50.4%) of his career.
“It is still Zach’s team,” the NBA source said. “Klutch just wants to make sure everyone knows it.”
Bulls Can Offer LaVine More Money, Years
The Bulls can offer LaVine a max contract starting at 30% of the salary cap, or $36.6 million. They can offer raises of 8% and a max of five years, which works out to $212.3 million. If he goes elsewhere, his contract can start at $36.6 million, he can only sign for four years and with 5% raises—$157 million total. On a per-year basis, that’s $42.5 million vs. 39.4 million.
The only teams that could conceivably create enough space to sign LaVine, using cap space, are Orlando, Detroit, Portland, Indiana and San Antonio, and it might be tough even there. Other teams could attempt salary dumps, but that won’t be easy.
The Bulls entered the free-agent process holding the upper hand over LaVine. While LaVine’s camp has tried to assert some control, fact is, the Bulls still have the upper hand, and that means LaVine and the Bulls are almost certain to remain together. But, hey, the drama is fun, too.