New Celtics GM Brad Stevens has started to put his stamp on the team — Kemba Walker is gone, Josh Richarson is in — but the big move, the one that vaults Boston into contention, has yet to come.
A potential Celtics free agent target could be Chicago’s Zach LaVine, who is entering the final year of his contract. He will have to prove he can lead the Bulls to the playoffs before a contract extension. LaVine changed representation recently and signed with Klutch Sports, which is usually the move for players who want to maximize their free agent potential. LaVine, 26, just coming off helping Team USA to the gold medal, will ask for a maximum contract in the open market. The Olympic experience may have enhanced LaVine’s value because he was asked to be a three-and-D player, sparking the Americans with his full-court defense and ability to run the floor. In the case that Bradley Beal decides to stay in Washington, LaVine could be the Celtics’ No. 1 target.
Note: Washburn is not saying this is sourced reporting, but let’s call it well-informed speculation. There’s a logic to it.
Everyone around the league is watching Beal. Early in training camp (the first week of October), he is eligible to sign a max contract extension with the Wizards, and if he doesn’t by the time the season starts speculation will hit an all-time high. If he doesn’t sign, the Wizards have to consider trading Beal because he can be a free agent after the season and the Wizards can’t afford to lose him and get nothing back. But, if he extends, then the speculation stops (for now).
Zach LaVine has turned himself into a max player — he averaged 27.4 points per game last season, shot 41.9% from 3, and just helped Team USA win gold — and the Bulls will offer him that contract next offseason. (LaVine will not extend: the max the Bulls can offer in an extension is four years and $104.8 million, but as a max free agent he can re-sign with the Bulls for $201 million over five years. Easy decision.) Because LaVine will be a free agent there is a chance he will leave, so the Bulls have been aggressive building a roster he doesn’t want to walk away from with Nikola Vucevic, Lonzo Ball, DeMar DeRozan, and others.
How well that roster performs this season will influence LaVine’s decision, but other teams are looking for signs of unhappiness and if they can poach him. It’s going to be a quiet free agent class next season, LaVine could be the exception and teams are watching and waiting. LaVine recently switched agents to Rich Paul and Klutch Sports, a sign he plans to aggressively go after every dollar he can get.
Ultimately, LaVine likely re-signs with the Bulls next season. But the Celtics are among a number of teams watching how things unfold, just in case.