Chicago Bulls veteran Garrett Temple declared back in December that Zach LaVine is a “budding superstar” in the NBA.
The 11th year veteran wasn’t just blowing smoke either. He knows what it takes to be a superstar in the NBA, playing with the likes of Tracy McGrady, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, John Wall, Bradley Beal and Demarcus Cousins.
LaVine has proven Temple’s assertion true 11 games through the season as he’s the league’s second-leading scorer behind only Bradley Beal. But just as it appears the Bulls have their first superstar since Jimmy Butler, a question has arisen.
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Is it Time to Trade Zach LaVine?
Chicago Sun-Times beat reporter Joe Cowley acknowledged a crossroads the Bulls have found themselves with LaVine.
Trade him or “ride the road to mediocrity?”
LaVine’s stock has never been higher since he returned from an ACL injury in 2017. But the past front office’s inability to surround him with quality pieces has left the team at a familiar juncture.
Here’s what Cowley wrote:
So what is the state of the team 11 games into a less-than-kind 2020-21 schedule? Actually, better than expected. There has been improved fight, a real offense rather than the gimmicky product seen last season and some development.
If the goal is to get back to the postseason in the next two seasons, grab that fifth or sixth spot and be a one-and-done, the Bulls are on their way back to mediocrity.
If, however, there are championship aspirations and a hope for sustained excellence? Then now is the time to strike. If the right deal presents itself, the Bulls need to move LaVine by the trade deadline.
Cowley added that it is not an indictment of LaVine who, along with his scoring output, is second in turnovers in the league. Instead, Cowley sums up the decision to pursue a trade as an inevitability as LaVine is on pace to justify a max contract entering the 2022 offseason — right when the Bulls’ reboot should see its fruition.
LaVine Could See an Exit Similar to Jimmy Butler’s Departure
Cowley’s case for trading LaVine is a similar predicament Chicago found itself with at the end of Jimmy Butler’s time with the Bulls. And it doesn’t end well.
Butler, like LaVine, has been pushed into being bonafide No. 1 scoring option, a role that doesn’t necessarily represent their best fit on an NBA roster. Once Butler found the right fit, Chicagoans were left scratching their heads at the untapped potential he provided last summer in the NBA playoffs, leading the Miami Heat to an NBA Finals appearance.
The Bulls have yet to show the success to warrant a willing superstar to join LaVine on a max contract, leaving the 25-year-old shooting guard as the engine of a group he’s ahead of developmentally.
Cowley reported that LaVine is looking for not only All-Star respect in the league but also financial respect that comes with a max contract and will likely not take a team-friendly deal with the Bulls. His defensive deficiencies will likely not garner in a 1-for-1 trade for another max-contract player. LaVine could stay and play the 2-spot if a true point guard were signed, however, Cowley’s insight into LaVine wanting a max deal may be the determining factor in the Bulls’ willingness to trade him.
LaVine would likely go in a package deal that leaves the Bulls with cap space to build depth with draft picks and try to attract a superstar to lead a championship run.
That superstar likely doesn’t come in the form of a shooting guard. The last shooting-guard-driven team to win a title was Kobe Bryant’s Lakers in 2010, per Cowley. The last nine titles have come from one common piece — a forward who has defensive versatility.
Ergo Patrick Williams, the first player chosen by the new front office and arguably the only player who is safe for the next three seasons.
Williams is the building block for the team, while LaVine continues to pile on points to improve his stock.
Cowley advises a trade be made soon before LaVine declines.
“Otherwise, pay LaVine and stay the course. Mediocrity awaits,” Cowley added.
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