LaVine’s free agency buzz looms large at the combine originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
The NBA Draft Combine is a place where young players can pursue their dreams.
It’s also, along with the NBA Summer League, the premier destination for league gossip, with executives from all 30 teams, coaches and agents all in one place.
A big topic of conversation this week was by Zach LaVine future. Opinions – some informed, some guesswork – vary on what Chicago Bulls‘ The two-time All-Star guard will do when he achieves unrestricted free agency on July 1.
But this is certain: his return to the Bulls is no longer considered the slam dunk it once was.
Whether it comes from LaVine exit interview with local reporters late April or a genuine belief that he will leave the franchise that can still earn him the most is unknown. What is 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.
LaVine, who is scheduled to have his arthroscopic knee surgery early next week, made it clear in his last media session that he would take his time in making his decision. The Bulls expect LaVine to visit, taste and dine and explore the unrestricted agency he has earned.
Bulls President/COO Michael Reinsdorf and Executive Vice President Artūras Karnišovas have publicly stated their desire for LaVine to stay in Chicago for the long term. Reinsdorf told NBC Sports Chicago that the franchise is ready to enter luxury tax territory for the second time in its history to retain that core and compete for championships.
LaVine clarified the importance for him to receive a contract max. Karnišovas said in late April that he did not believe LaVine’s upcoming proceedings, which at the time were neither certain nor expected, would factor into the negotiations.
The procedure is generally expected to be simply a cleaning scope. LaVine has told confidants that her knee sometimes feels like it has “loose cartilage.” An MRI taken in January showed no structural damage.
Still, there’s speculation from rival executives whether or not the Bulls will extend LaVine’s full five-year, roughly $212 million maximum contract. The public positions of Reinsdorf and Karnišovas suggest otherwise.
So does the fact that the Bulls opted against a renegotiation and extension option last offseason and instead, with input from LaVine, worked aggressively as a team at- above the ceiling to add DeMar DeRozan and Lonzo Ball via sign-and-trade acquisitions, then signed Alex Caruso except for the intermediate level.
LaVine acknowledged the moves as “huge” during his late April media session with reporters.
“It just shows that they (the Bulls front office) were ready to win. Obviously my first two years here, it was hard to have that feeling. This year has been amazing,” he said “You have to take everything into consideration. And obviously the squad we have here is something you have to consider, how good we were last year and moving forward.”
The Bulls know losing LaVine for nothing would be a blow from a basketball and business standpoint. The latter is not trivial for a franchise that, according to several subscribers, recently raised ticket prices for the first time in years.
Even though the fifth-year salary of $48.3 million seems untenable to some on paper, it has to be seen in the context of the salary cap hike. And if recent NBA history has proven anything, it’s that most contracts are negotiable at some point.
As for the teams currently tied to LaVine through gossip and league speculation, only the Trail Blazers possess the ability to clear a maximum salary cap slot. Even that would require several cost and asset reduction measures. Teams like the Lakers would need to execute a sign and trade, which would be complicated.
Which is why, when all is said and done, LaVine’s return to the Bulls is still the safest bet — assuming that’s what the unrestricted free agent wants.