Now that the regular season has come to a close and the Chicago Bulls are a non-participant in the postseason, fans are looking to the offseason and free agency.
But admittedly, it’s hard to do so with an elephant-sized agenda surrounding the team’s best player.
Zach LaVine is entering the last year of his four-year/$80-million contract with the Bulls, and Chicago is expected to engage him on extension talks as soon as is allowed.
But how the 26-year old will respond to those talks is still up in the air.
The first-time All-Star is coming off of a career season where he averaged 27.4 points, five rebounds, and 4.9 assists per game on a scorching 51/42/85 shooting split.
As NBC Sport’s Rob Schaefer noted in his latest, LaVine is criminally underpaid for a player of his caliber:
Excluding players on rookie contracts (Luka Dončić, Zion Williamson, Trae Young, Collin Sexton), LaVine is the only player of the league’s top 28 scorers this season scheduled to make less than $20 million in 2021-22.
That being said, if the Chicago Bulls want to lock in Zach LaVine long-term, the number could be significant.
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Frameworks of Deal
As it stands today, the most the Chicago Bulls can offer Zach LaVine in an extension this offseason would be a four-year deal somewhere north of $104-105 million.
That’s based on 120 percent of his salary for the 2021-2022 season, with eight percent increases annually.
It would tie LaVine to Chicago through the 2025-2026 season, for which they have no guaranteed salary currently on the books. Rookie Patrick Williams deal runs up after the 2023-2024 campaign.
But as Eric Pincus noted back in January, that’s not the Bulls’ only route in a LaVine extension:
The Bulls would need roughly $14.2 million in cap space to give LaVine a raise (starting with the 2021-22 season) that would pay him approximately $151.7 million over four years. Although they would be using some of their financial flexibility on him instead of adding additional talent, they would no longer have to worry about losing him as an unrestricted free agent in 2022.
That’s a risky gamble, forking over current cap space today in order to ensure they retain LaVine.
But if the franchise feels strongly about his being the face of the team, and all reports seemingly indicate that they do, then it’s a small price to pay to guarantee his presence in the Windy City.
And based on his comments throughout the season, a drastic maneuver similar to the aforementioned one may be what it takes to secure a commitment from Zach LaVine this offseason.
LaVine Sending Mixed Signals?
No one’s entirely sure what Zach LaVine’s willing to do this offseason, maybe not even the All-Star guard himself.
Bleacher Report’s A. Sherrod Blakely reported back in April that the general feel around the league was that the 26-year old would bypass an extension, with eyes on free agency 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.
As an unrestricted free agent, Chicago could offer LaVine a deal worth 30 percent of the salary cap.
But Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times reported last week that the right kind of talent additions could help to persuade the All-Star to take a team-friendly discount:
However, there are several sources who said that might not be the case any longer, as adding key role players around him could persuade LaVine to give the Bulls a slight discount.
And shortly thereafter, LaVine made comments in his exit interview (via NBC Sports) that sounded as if he was out for top dollar:
I think with different situations with different people taking less money or taking the max, it’s a business at the end of the day. And I definitely want what I deserve, and whatever that is, I’ll have it coming to me.
All the same, Nikola Vucevic, his All-Star teammate, implied in his own exit interview (via NBC Sports) that the guard is hungry to win, and in Chicago specifically:
He’s very motivated to win. And he really wants to do that here. That’s something that we both have and I think we can help the team more next year.
The big man expressed conversations were had about next season and making the playoffs, another encouraging sign:
I can just tell it bothered him that we didn’t make the playoffs and he really wanted to do it. We talked about next year. It just comes out of him how motivated he is to get there.
It’s clear the Chicago Bulls have the means to keep Zach LaVine in the Windy City, and long term, too.
But is it enough?
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