If nothing else, the Chicago Bulls stretch without Zach LaVine has proved his value to this team, and quieted any and all question as to whether or not they were better without him.
But the All-Star’s willingness to remain in the Windy City beyond next season remains unclear.
Bleacher Report’s A. Sherrod Blakely reported earlier this month that the expectation is LaVine will bypass extension talk, making him a free agent in 2022:
That’s why rival executives anticipate the Bulls will try to lock up LaVine with a contract extension (he will make $19.5 million this season and next) but know he’ll likely let his deal lapse, become an unrestricted free agent and sign what will be a more lucrative multiyear max pact.
Averaging 27.5 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 5.1 assists per game, the 26-year old guard will undoubtedly attract both trade suitors and teams with an interest in signing him outright over the next 18 months.
It’s up to the Chicago front office to sell him on a Bulls future before then.
The latest Bulls news straight to your inbox! Join the Heavy on Bulls newsletter here!
Join Heavy on Bulls!
The Last Go Around
This won’t be the first offseason Zach LaVine and the Chicago Bulls have had to negotiate a new contract.
He was a restricted free agent in 2018 before earning his current contract, for four years and $80-million.
But it’s how he ended up on this deal that’s important. LaVine signed an offer sheet from the Sacramento Kings, which was ultimately matched by Chicago.
Prior to that though, he was very vocal about his frustrations with how the Bulls navigated his restricted free agency.
From a 2018 interview with Marc J. Spears of ESPN:
I’m disappointed that I had to get an offer sheet from another team. But Sacramento stepped up and made a strong impression. It appears that Sacramento wants me more than Chicago.
He’s remained with the Bulls since, obviously, but according to NBC Sports’ K.C. Johnson, the scars of his previous free agency may in fact be an open wound:
Privately, LaVine is still — what’s the right word, stung? bemused? — about his 2018 restricted free agency. He had to go get an offer sheet from the Kings to get what he felt was fair value for his play.
That doesn’t bode well for a Chicago team that’s underwhelming the expectation set by their blockbuster, trade deadline deal for Nikola Vucevic. As much as that move was about pairing another All-Star with LaVine, the Bulls were also focused on making this year’s playoffs.
At 25-34 with 13 games to go, that’s becoming less and less likely.
Sure, it doesn’t help that LaVine’s missed five games, as he was entered into the league’s health and safety protocol.
But this is a business before all else, and whether or not he’ll take that into account can’t be factored in to the Bulls’ handling of his free agency.
There’s a New Regime in Chicago
The most important thing to remember in regards to Zach LaVine’s potentially sour feelings of his previous free agency, is that it’s a new era, and more importantly a new infrastructure in Chicago.
This front office, headed by Arturas Karnisovas, isn’t the same one that let the All-Star guard sit in limbo in 2018, halfway between starting a new chapter in Sacramento and continuing his career with the Bulls.
Johnson noted as much in his response:
That situation obviously developed under the previous managerial regime. And while LaVine has played himself into max contract extension status, he’s also a smart and loyal guy. That’s not to suggest he’s going to be bending over backwards for a hometown discount, particularly after what happened in 2018.
As far as it’s been reported, LaVine and Karnisovas have been on great terms since day one. And there’s reason to be optimistic that all of the Bulls moves made since the executives arrival have been under consideration of the guard and with his future in mind:
It’s more to note that he and Vučević are represented by the same agency and LaVine long has placed a premium on winning. So if he likes what the Bulls are building and both sides are committed to making a long-term partnership work, there’s a path to making everybody happy.
Johnson is right in that both LaVine and Vucevic are represented by BDA Sports Management.
Don’t doubt that it played part (no matter how small) in the Chicago Bulls trading for the big man.
Whether it will factor into LaVine’s contract negotiations is unclear, but also unlikely.
READ NEXT: Bulls’ Billy Donovan Shares Striking Opinion on Coby White’s Play