The deed is done. Zach LaVine is returning to the Bulls on a 5-year, $215 million max contract. Never a doubt.
The Bulls give LaVine a player option on year five, which proves they were willing to do whatever it takes to get the deal done. We’ll see if they included any injury provisions or a no-trade clause.
Despite some smoke and speculation early in the offseason, this was always the most likely outcome. LaVine had very few options when it comes to better teams, more opportunity and more money. Even if things completely implode with the Bulls (let’s hope they don’t 🤞), LaVine could easily request a trade and be moved to any number of teams he wants to play for.
When the Bulls traded for him in 2017 and subsequently offered him a 4-year, $78 million extension, I was admittedly very much against it. He was coming off an ACL surgery and not the type of player I’d personally want to hitch my wagon to.
Boy, was I wrong.
LaVine has come such a long way since joining the Bulls. He has improved every year, adjusted his role, become a leader of the team all the while improving his game to the point of becoming a two-time NBA All-Star. LaVine deserves every last penny of this deal. Not only because of how good he has become, but how much better he can become in the future. He is the face of the franchise and now, the centerpiece of its future.
Everything the Bulls have done since Arturas Karnisovas and Mark Eversley took over the team in 2020 has led to this moment. They don’t trade Wendell Carter Jr. and three first round picks for Nikola Vucevic and DeMar DeRozan unless maxing LaVine is in your plans.
Giving LaVine the max is not only the right thing to do, but the only thing they could have done. The Bulls could not afford to let LaVine go for nothing. They wouldn’t have any cap space to bring in another free agent, let alone someone better. He may not be a top-ten player in the league and he needs help to be part of a great team. But his individual talent is undeniable. He can dominate a game and play next to other stars. He’s exactly the kind of player a team needs to build a serious contender.
Giving LaVine the max was the only way forward, whether you like the terms of the deal or not. Now, the interesting part happens. Where do we go from here?
Barring any blockbuster moves, the Bulls will enter their season with the same group as the previous summer. They’ll have a hopefully healthy Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso for next season. They’ll have Ayo Dosunmu, Dalen Terry and Patrick Williams as a young nucleus. Vucevic is around, albeit on an expiring contract, and they’ll need to figure out his future before long. Oh yes, they also have a DeRozan.
Will that core be good enough?
While fully healthy last season, the Bulls were awesome. LaVine played a huge part in that. But then injuries hit and the final thirty percent of the season was as bad as the first half was good.
While the rest of the league is constantly getting better, the Bulls are in a tough position — their roster is relatively older and they’re limited in terms of deployable resources. They’ll need to rely on health and internal improvement from their young players to make this thing go. Bringing back LaVine ensures they will continue down the path of contention intention, but they’ll need to make significant upgrades around this core to be better than they were last year.
While the Bulls used a portion of their mid-level exception on Andre Drummond, they still have potential avenues to improve the roster. They have the remaining $7 million of the mid-level exception and a $5 million trade exception. Hopefully ownership will be willing to go into the luxury tax to support the roster building efforts.
Those questions should be answered in the near future, but for now, we rejoice in the fact that the Bulls got it right: they gave LaVine the max contract he deserves.
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