Zach LaVine wants what he deserves in a potential contract extension.
The Chicago Bulls’ All-Star guard made that clear at his end-of-season press conference with reporters when he said: “I think with different situations with different people taking less money or taking the max, it’s a business at the end of the day. And I definitely want what I deserve, and whatever that is, I’ll have it coming to me.”
Speaking from the United States men’s basketball national team minicamp in advance of the Tokyo Olympics two months later, LaVine said he expects talks with the team to start soon, and that he’s confident they will be productive.
“The contract situation, I think it’s going to play out the right way,” LaVine said. “I haven’t been worrying about it right now, but we should be in talks soon and we’ll see what happens.’’
LaVine, whose current contract expires after the 2021-22 campaign, is extension-eligible this offseason after signing a four-year, $78 million offer sheet with the Sacramento Kings that the Bulls later matched in the summer of 2018.
At that time, LaVine was coming off an abridged season following his recovery from a torn ACL. But his ascent to All-Star status has made the $19.5 million annual value of that deal well below market value. Excluding players still on their rookie deals, LaVine is the only player that ranked in the NBA’s top-28 scorers last season scheduled to make less than $20 million in 2021-22. He averaged career-bests in points (27.4), rebounds (5.0) and assists (4.9) while shooting career-best percentages from the field (50.7) and 3-point range (41.9) in 2020-21.
The Bulls have multiple options for how to handle a potential extension for LaVine:
Option #1: Offer him the maximum straight-up extension they can now, which would start at 120 percent of his 2020-21 salary (i.e. $23.4 million) and pay out $105 million over four years beginning in 2022-23. This offer would also fall below market value given LaVine’s age (26) and status.
Option #2: Allow LaVine to play out the final season of his current contract, then offer him his five-year max (which would start at 30 percent of the salary cap and is currently projected to pay out over $200 million in total) when he hits unrestricted free agency next summer. This scenario invites the risk of LaVine walking, but the Bulls would have the advantage of being able to offer a fifth year and exceed the salary cap to re-sign him.
LaVine would also be eligible for a "supermax" contract beginning at 35 percent of the cap (and totaling north of $235 million over five years) if he makes All-NBA in 2021-22. So, while a tall task, waiting a year could maximize LaVine's earning power.
Option #3: Clear salary cap space this offseason by renouncing free agents and/or potentially waiving players with partially guaranteed salaries (more on that here), then offering LaVine a renegotiated-and-extended contract that begins in 2021-22. If the Bulls got roughly $14 million below the cap, that contract could max out, per ESPN’s Bobby Marks, at nearly $195 million over the next five seasons — with a starting salary of 30 percent of the current cap ($33.6 million).
Setting Option #1 to the side, Options #2 and #3 each have their pros and cons. Option #2 leaves LaVine’s status up in the air for another year, but preserves some flexibility for the Bulls this offseason (and LaVine next). Option #3 would provide immediate long-term security for both sides, but require some deck-shuffling.
What’s clear is the Bulls telegraphed an intention to build around LaVine and Nikola Vučević (under contract through 2022-23) when they traded two first-round picks for the latter in February. So prioritizing a LaVine extension makes sense.
Whichever way talks lean, fans eager to see LaVine eventually inked long-term can take solace for now in the fact that, even after a disappointing season for the team, he spoke optimistically of a multi-year partnership with Billy Donovan, and reiterated his love of Chicago, back in May.
“He’s really about winning. That’s something that was very important for me to see when I got here. And I saw it from Day One,” Vučević said of LaVine at his own end-of-season presser. “He’s very motivated to win. And he really wants to do that here.”
But talk is just that until the ink dries. Stay tuned.