Chicago & the Zach LaVine Contract

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Updated: March 25, 2022
ZachLaVine

Despite a nice sentimental victory against DeRozan’s former Raptors, the Chicago Bulls have continued quite possibly the most troubling trend in all of basketball…that being, the inability to beat contenders. The details of their L collected against the Bucks isn’t really the issue, as Giannis is a walking league-wide mismatch. It is the fact that the Bulls have literally not acquired a single win against any of the top 3 teams in either conference. At 0-16 when going head-to-head with the Sixers, Bucks, Heat, Suns, Warriors, and Grizzlies, they also have a sub-500 record at 21-22 against teams playing over 500 ball, along with a losing record on the road at 16-20.

Many around the league had become enamored by their unforeseen early-season success and thought Chicago may be the 2022 version of last year’s Atlanta Hawks. With a few key additions and most notably an MVP candidate-level DeMar DeRozan, they were labeled, the non-contender no one wants to meet early in the playoffs. However, with Lonzo Ball’s rehab process being pushed back indefinitely and their poor play in meaningful matchups throughout the season, that may be exactly who they are…the team every contender wants to see in the 2nd round.

Predictions for the postseason aside, there is a question that has yet to draw much attention for this upcoming free agency. With every syllable uttered by Dame Lillard and Brad Beal annotated and analyzed in the media, you would think they’re the only guards potentially on the move. To be fair they are the only perennial All-Stars who have been in the center of the trade rumor machine for years, but it is Zach LaVine at 27 years of age and no serious injury history hitting the streets of free agency this summer.

Due to his lack of individual accolades, the Bulls were unable to offer him a max extension matching his production level. They could’ve done so if they would have shed some of the fat off the rest of the roster’s salary this year, but instead decided to spend and hope that creating a contender would be the route to solidify LaVine’s tenure long-term. Early in the season, not only Chicago’s success but overall chemistry appeared to have accomplished this goal. The Bulls appeared to have a balanced diet of seasoned vets, experienced young players in their mid/late 20s, and up-and-coming high ceiling rookie contracts.

Unfortunately for the Chicago front office, two truths now stand in the way of their Zach LaVine contract plans. One being, players, like everyone else who follows the league, have short attention spans. No one cares that Curry was the best player in basketball prior to the new year, instead, his season will be defined by the record he broke, his poor shooting slump, and if his low efficiency will be forgotten or echoed by his performance in playoffs. The same can be said about Chicago. No one, including LaVine, cares how the Bulls started this season. He and everyone in his camp that helps make his economic decisions only care about what has happened lately. It is a question I have been asking since the offseason when his contract was discussed and the Bulls were unable to lock LaVine down, is what do all of these moves mean if the Bulls are nothing but a first-round knockout waiting to happen?

The second truth working against Chicago is LaVine will not make an All-NBA team this year. So, unlike many of the other stars in his position who had an obscene amount of excessive dollars attached to their home team’s contract with the super-max, the only big difference in the Bulls offer and everyone else is the 5th year, which at 27, LaVine may not want anyways to reenter free agency for a bigger payday in his early 30’s (Bulls 200 over 5, and the field can offer 160 over 4). Even if he wanted the 5th year and the additional cash incentive Chicago can offer, we have seen countless sign-and-trades over the last handful of offseasons, and it appears to actually be the norm now for exiting a franchise.

To be fair, there has been little chatter out of LaVine’s camp about his upcoming contract after his one interview last summer where he referred to respect and getting paid what he deserved. However, LaVine has been quite a quiet character in our NBA soap opera up until now, and as an unrestricted free agent, there really is no need for him to flex his position over his teammates as they gear up for the playoffs.

LaVine rightfully feels he is underpaid at under 19.5 per and expects to get the bag thrown at him the second the free agency doors open (and months before the official doors open through the back-channel negotiations). The question left to answer for Zach and his camp, is how much better this roster in Chicago can be in the upcoming years? Sure, all-rookie sophomore Patrick Williams missed the entire season and like most teams this year, the Bulls lost two of their rotation pieces for a substantial amount of time in Lonzo and Caruso.

But, unless LaVine and his people not only believe the Kawhi-comps around Patrick Williams’ ceiling but that this evolution will occur relatively soon, the real question being asked is about DeMar DeRozan. Was this year a turning point or an anomaly? Even if he maintains some semblance of this type of production next year, it is highly unlikely that at 33 years old next season that this type of production will reproduce itself more than one time over. At 27 million for DeRozan and the low-production 1-way big Nikola Vucevic at 22 million, it is not hard to see the ceiling of Chicago being limited with the majority of the draft capital owed elsewhere.

It is also possible, that unlike the very public Tatum and Beal or Irving and Durant, LaVine quietly made some close friendships while playing overseas for the Olympic team. He also played the best defense of his career for team USA and may have also created an exit route if Chicago ended up being a dead-end come the summertime. With the ease of not only sign and trades eliminating the need for salary cap room but also the inclusion of the salary dump franchise in OKC who are more than willing to absorb contracts for draft capital, LaVine could theoretically end up anywhere his heart desires.

Despite what he may feel in this moment, the last thing he will presumably taste this season in a Bulls’ uniform, is the L delivering the knockout blow in the playoffs. If it comes at the hands of the future champions in a well-fought game 7, maybe optimism will be high in the time of contract considerations. However, if they get knocked out in the first round or are swept in the 2nd, it would be foolish for those close to him, not at the very least have Zach test the waters of the open market.

 

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