The Zach LaVine situation has slowly escalated since the Chicago Bulls’ regular season came to an end.
While unrestricted free agency always left the door open for the LaVine rumors, the expectations were that the 2x All-Star would accept a max offer from his recently revamped front office with open arms. After all, not only did they show commitment to him one offseason prior by aggressively pursuing roster upgrades, but the organization also cracked the playoffs for the first time in five years. The Chicago Bulls were finally winning, and it couldn’t have come at a better time for LaVine.
In my opinion, LaVine staying put remains the most likely outcome. The Bulls can offer him the most money, and we still have no reason to believe he’s on bad terms with anyone inside the organization. But what once felt like a foregone conclusion has started to feel much more… well… up in the air.
Thing first heated up with ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported that people around the league felt like LaVine was “in play.” On the Hoop Collective Podcast, he also name-dropped the Portland Trail Blazers as a possible team to keep an eye on. NBC Sports Chicago’s KC Johnson – a source extremely close to home – has now added to this point, confirming that LaVine’s future with the Bulls is no longer viewed as definite.
Here’s what Johnson wrote:
“But this much is certain: His return to the Bulls no longer is considered the slam dunk it once was.
Whether that stems from LaVine’s own exit interview with local reporters in late April or a genuine belief he will leave the franchise that still can pay him the most is unknown. What’s certain is that league gossip throughout this week has linked LaVine to at least four teams – Lakers, Trail Blazers, Mavericks, Hawks – with almost certainly more to follow…
The Bulls are fully expecting LaVine to take visits, be wined and dined and explore the unrestricted free agency he has earned. ”
NOTE: The fact that this the information is evidently coming from mumbles and murmurs at the NBA Draft Combine does mean we should approach with caution.
Where there’s smoke, there’s often fire. The cliche has to be considered here, especially when we factor in LaVine’s noncommital comments at his end-of-year press conference. As well as some even weirder (and, frankly, less believable) rumors that LaVine may want out of Chicago because… DeMar DeRozan got too much love? I don’t buy that part of the story at all. It just feels like an incredibly easy and common rumor for opposing executives to spew. Not to mention, LaVine has done nothing except praise his time with DeRozan this season. But, again, the morsel of truth at the center could point us in the right direction.
And while we must always consider who may benefit from these types of rumors (LaVine’s camp), we can’t just ignore them entirely as a play for leverage. They’re simply not mutually exclusive outcomes.
Indeed, Johnson didn’t just name one team to keep an eye on (like Windhorst), he mentioned four teams that LaVine had been directly “linked to” this week: The Lakers, Trail Blazers, Mavericks, and Hawks. He also noted that he expects more to follow. While this further suggests that other teams view LaVine as “in play,” it could also suggest that LaVine is very much open to hearing any team out.
Now, the only team that could make an actual cap space run at LaVine would be the Trail Blazers.
There is an avenue for them to open up enough cash to fork over a four-year max deal. As for the Lakers, Mavericks, and Hawks, LaVine would have to work with the Bulls front office on a sign-and-trade. Considering that would at least get the franchise something back for LaVine’s services, they’d surely jump at the opportunity, but we also have to keep in mind that this something isn’t likely to be a player of equal value to LaVine. And that’s why this is all so concerning.
A LaVine departure could turn really ugly, really fast for the Bulls. They invested a lot of draft capital and dollars in building a winning product around him one summer ago. He was their building block for the future, and there isn’t a single easy way to replace that building block when we consider how depleted their arsenal stands. Not to mention, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic are two aging All-Stars. As good as they have been in recent years, no one expects either to be a long-term face of a franchise at this point in their career.
Additionally, we can’t forget what this could do for the perception of the Bulls’ front office. You come in, you make all these aggressive moves, and you can’t even keep your star player? Why doesn’t he want to stay? Did you try your hardest to keep him? LaVine is a respected name, and we need to look no further than his current interest in the market to see just that. If he walks, it will have a negative impact on how at least some people perceive this new front office.
Ok, I should probably stop there. The last thing I want to do is spiral into a full-blown life-without-LaVine conversation if I don’t have to. All we can do for now is continue to wait for more rumors and reports to surface. As I said up top, I still think the Bulls have the best shot at re-signing LaVine, but we can’t rule anything out anymore.