That’s pretty much the answer to everything Bulls-related these days.
It’s early in a new management’s regime. It’s early in an uncertain period for the league, with no 2020-21 calendar, or salary cap and luxury tax figures set. It’s two years before Zach LaVine hits free agency and roughly three months before Lauri Markkanen is eligible to sign a contract extension.
Like we said, it’s early. And that’s why speculation beyond Jim Boylen’s future will arise as the Bulls endure an eight-month-plus break between regular-season games.
The latest comes from SNY.tv, which reported that the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets have done background work on LaVine should new front office heads Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley decide to trade the Bulls’ leading scorer. Such research is common practice around the league — especially for a player of LaVine's talents and contract status — but the report sparked a storm amongst Bulls fans.
So, to add some context: LaVine flew to Chicago two weeks ago for a positive first in-person visit with Karnisovas and Eversley. Known for his strong offseason work ethic typically based outside his Seattle hometown, LaVine also participated in voluntary workouts at the Advocate Center in Chicago.
Karnisovas and Eversley have both praised LaVine in their public remarks since landing their jobs. Both executives also have talked positively about the roster’s potential and pointed to discovering why, beyond injuries, the team underachieved last season.
And further, while all teams talk, the Bulls’ initial focus since Karnisovas and Eversley's hirings has seemingly been on maximizing the roster’s potential in advance of an uncertain 2020-21 season. Particularly since the Bulls are positioned to own significant salary cap space and potentially make significant roster changes in the 2021 offseason.
In fact, according to executives from two other teams, Thad Young, not LaVine, is the player considered most readily available. That’s largely based on Young’s displeasure with his role and usage last season, his team-friendly deal that carries only a partial guarantee in 2021-22 and his dependability and professionalism.
LaVine is eligible for a contract extension in October as well, but don’t look for substantive talks considering all the uncertainty surrounding the franchise’s future. Plus, it’s impossible to view LaVine’s future without tackling his eventful relationship with Boylen.
After a rocky start when Boylen first replaced Fred Hoiberg, LaVine began embracing Boylen’s care factor and accepting his challenge to become a better two-way player. In a well documented — and sometimes mocked — story, LaVine even offered to pay Boylen’s fines when the coach got ejected from a road loss to the Clippers in March 2019. Boylen then visited LaVine on his vacation in the Bahamas during the 2019 offseason.
But last season offered more challenging times. Boylen yanked LaVine early during a November home loss to the Heat for what Boylen termed “three egregious” defensive mistakes. Clearly upset, LaVine then authored a performance for the ages the following night, scoring 49 points and sinking 13 3-pointers, including the game-winner, at Charlotte. That outing catalyzed a career year in which LaVine averaged 25.5 points per game, the most by a Bull since the Jordan years, on gaudy usage and efficiency.
LaVine isn’t a boat-rocker by nature and takes pride in embracing his role as the main face of the franchise. But he questioned Boylen’s offensive system at times last season, one which largely eschewed his midrange game.
Since taking over, Karnisovas has empowered Boylen and his staff, holding to his public stance he plans to get to know him and watch him work before deciding on his future status. That process is expected to last at least through September — when there’s hope teams not part of the NBA’s restart will be allowed some sort of formal group activities — and perhaps longer.
In his introductory news conference, Karnisovas detailed his preferred offensive philosophy of a read-and-react system with plenty of ball and player movement. Would system changes wring more production from Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr. and an appeased LaVine?
LaVine has grown increasingly vocal with his displeasure of not sniffing the playoffs after six NBA seasons. He also has praised the leadership and communication skills of Karnisovas and Eversley.
Stay tuned. After all, it’s early.