In his season-ending media session, Zach LaVine crystallized the matter of his next contract in clear fashion.
“Everybody wants to get paid what they're worth,” the Bulls’ leading scorer and All-Star guard said last month. “When my time comes, I definitely will get that.”
Indeed, he will. LaVine’s next contract will be of the maximum or near-maximum variety. It simply will be a matter of when he signs it — and for what team he signs it.
All signs point to that being the Chicago Bulls. LaVine also made clear his feelings on that last month.
“I love it here in Chicago,” he said.
LaVine always has been committed to the Bulls. Management’s move to trade for a fellow All-Star — and agency mate — in Nikola Vučević and hire a coach in Billy Donovan whom he respects and is excited to experience continuity with only intensified his pride in representing a historic franchise.
In certain ways, LaVine’s future will be a reflection on management’s publicly stated desire to return the Bulls to relevancy and consistent winning.
LaVine, who possibly can be an unrestricted free agent next offseason, has given no indications of wanting to leave. But in this day and age of stars forcing their way out of franchises — or, in recent reporting from The Athletic about Luka Dončić and Zion Williamson, proactive noise about the potential of such a scenario — leadership has to be on point.
Next week’s NBA Draft Lottery could begin to offer some signs about the Bulls’ offseason route. Cash in a 20.3 percent chance to land in the top four selections and the Bulls keep their pick and, barring a trade, add a guaranteed rookie contract north of $7.2 million to their books.
That scenario would likely lead to the Bulls operating as an over-the-cap team for 2021-22 and rob them the chance to carve out cap space to renegotiate and extend LaVine this offseason. His above quote again underscores how he’s not signing a standard extension of 120 percent above his final-year salary, which would translate to four years and roughly $104 million.
LaVine is due $19.5 million next season in the final year of a four-year, $78 million deal that started with an offer sheet from the Sacramento Kings, which the Bulls matched. The Bulls would have to clear about $14 million of cap space this offseason to re-negotiate and extend LaVine at his max of four years and approximately $151 million.
Adding a top-four selection and its inherent cap hold and re-negotiating and extending LaVine would leave the Bulls with the room exception and minimum contracts to fill out the roster. It’s doable, but it would likely mean players like Thad Young, Tomáš Satoranský and Lauri Markkanen would be gone.
That’s why, if the Bulls keep their 2021 first-round pick, waiting until 2022 is the more likely scenario — and the one that places the onus on management to improve the roster while knowing LaVine’s large payday is coming.
LaVine then would be eligible for a five-year extension that, depending on the salary cap, would be worth over $200 million.
If the Bulls don’t keep their first-round pick next week, it’s a hit. But it offers management more flexibility with how they choose to approach LaVine’s future.
Either way, LaVine has done his part. His payday is coming. For it to happen here while fulfilling his goal of playing for a winner, that’s where LaVine and management must both produce.