In what is considered a down free agent class, Zach LaVine is the big prize.
(Unless Bradley Beal decides to bolt Washington D.C., which remains unlikely. Kyrie Irving and James Harden will opt out of their current contracts and be free agents, but both of them are staying put at numbers their current teams will not be comfortable with but have to pay anyway).
What does LaVine want? A return to Chicago after a promising season and returning to relevance? Or does he see a better fit somewhere else?
LaVine left the door wide open speaking with the media Friday. Every option was on the table.
“I have to do this as a business decision, as a man, to not just be viewed one way and be like I’m automatically coming back or I’m automatically leaving,” LaVine said, via the Associated Press.
LaVine emphasized he loved Chicago and his time with the Bulls, but said he wanted to take advantage of being a free agent and being recruited. Here are a couple more quotes from LaVine’s media availability, via NBC Sports Chicago.
“I plan to enjoy free agency with what it is as a whole. I think you’re going to have to experience A-Z without making any fast decisions. I think that’s something that me and (agent) Rich (Paul) get to go through and experience.”
“You should view it as I’ve been here [in Chicago] for the last five years. Obviously you guys have been a really, really soft spot in my heart and I have to do this as a business decision as a man. Not to just be viewed one way, and be like: ‘I’m automatically coming back,’ or ‘I’m automatically leaving,’ things like that. It’s unrestricted free agency, for my family and me I have to go into this like it’s a decision where I have to be open-eyed.”
LaVine was an All-Star this season, averaging 24.4 points and 4.5 assists per game, the second leading scorer on the Bulls and one of their key offensive engines. He’s also going to have offseason plans for knee surgery.
LaVine said, “it’s important to me” to get a max contract, but considering the surgery it’s possible teams offer slightly below the max. The Bulls can max him out at five years, $212 million; other teams can offer four years, $157 (that is also the max for a sign-and-trade).
There may not be a lot of competition for LaVine, despite him being a prolific scorer — there are just not many teams that have or can create max cap space. While Orlando and Detroit have the most money to spend this offseason, those are rebuilding teams with long timelines, franchises not interested in a win-now star such LaVine.
Both Portland — trying to rebuild on the fly around Damian Lillard — and the San Antonio Spurs are better fits and could come calling. However, neither has enough cap space to sign LaVine to a max outright (both may be able to make other moves to free up the cap space, or put together a sign-and-trade with the Bulls). The same is true of the Knicks, who may go star hunting after a disappointing season, but would have to get LaVine through a sign-and-trade.
The most likely outcome is LaVine re-signs in Chicago and the Bulls run it back with DeMar DeRozan, Nichola Vucevic, Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso and the rest. He’d be leaving a lot of guaranteed money on the table, and wouldn’t necessarily be going to a better situation.
But LaVine is going to consider those situations and make his call, and this one could drag out a while his summer.