The Chicago Bulls went all-in to create a team Zach LaVine would want to re-sign with in free agency, making moves to bring in Nikola Vucevic, DeMar DeRozan, Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso, among others. The Bulls newish front office built a playoff team.
All that may not be enough.
LaVine free agency rumors were a hot topic at the NBA Draft Combine this past week in Chicago, with K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago summing it up best:
But this much is certain: His return to the Bulls no longer is considered the slam dunk it once was.
LaVine opened the door after the season saying he was going to explore free agency (and him having his knee scoped is not going to cool down his market). Where could he land? Just about anywhere, according to Johnson.
What’s certain is that league gossip throughout this week has linked LaVine to at least four teams — Lakers, Trail Blazers, Mavericks, Hawks — with almost certainly more to follow.
The Knicks have been rumored as well.
The Trail Blazers are looking to retool on the fly around Damian Lillard and LaVine would fit with that (but create some defensive challenges). Hawks GM Travis Schlenk has talked openly about the roster needing upgrades after a disappointing season. LaVine paired with Trae Young would be an offensive force (again, defense not so much). The need for the Lakers to upgrade quickly with an aging LeBron James is obvious (but no, the Bulls are not taking back Russell Westbrook in a sign-and-trade without a container ship worth of sweeteners thrown in, and even then maybe not). The Mavericks are still playing but remain open to putting another star next to Luka Doncic.
LaVine is a star — a literal All-Star this season — who averaged 24.4 points and 4.5 assists per game for the Bulls and is a powerful offensive engine. He would fit a lot of places besides the four mentioned.
He also wants to get paid — LaVine said, “it’s important to me” to get a max contract, which would be four years, $157 million from any of those teams. That means it will take a sign-and-trade for LaVine to get to any of those teams (and most others around the league, only a few rebuilding teams have max cap space). That’s where it gets tricky. Atlanta has some interesting younger players — De'Andre Hunter, John Collins — who could be part of a trade that works for both sides. Portland is not deep with trade assets. The Lakers have a couple of first-round picks (starting in 2027) and Talen Horton-Tucker but little else to make a trade that would interest the Bulls.
LaVine could be gone, or he could leverage all this talk into a max contract from the Bulls, who can offer five years, $212 million.
Most agents would recommend taking the big contract from the Bulls and, if he’s unhappy in Chicago, force his way out in a couple of years with that big bag of cash in his hand. LaVine could do that (or he could stay in Chicago longer), but he will listen to everybody’s pitch this summer.
Like the weather in Chicago, the LaVine rumors are just starting to heat up.