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Rumor: Zach LaVine could be poached from Bulls in free agency

Bulls star Zach LaVine

In this photo from March 22, 2021, Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine runs on the court during a game against the Jazz at the United Center in Chicago. (Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)


Zach LaVine once appeared fairly likely to re-sign with the Bulls as an unrestricted free agent this summer.

Chicago surrounded him with far more talent. He sounded predisposed to staying. The Bulls led the Eastern Conference after the All-Star break.

LaVine playing through a knee injury looked particularly telling. Would he really risk that without assurances from Chicago on his next deal? Players in contract years are usually cautious.

But injuries and regression hit the Bulls. Chicago slumped into the playoffs. LaVine said home fans should boo the Bulls and called their performance embarrassing. Chicago got steamrolled by the Bucks in the first round. Due to coronavirus protocols, LaVine wasn’t even with the team at the end – a sour final impression.

LaVine said after the season he’d explore free agency.

Which people in the NBA noticed.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

Subsequently, as I’ve talked to league executives, there’s now some belief – and maybe only Zach knows – but there’s now some belief that Zach could be in play, that what a lot of people thought was a forgone conclusion of Zach staying in Chicago on whatever deal was going to be may not be the case.

If going on only LaVine’s postseason quote, executives are probably overreacting. In February, when the Bulls were faring better, LaVine looked forward to free agency and even brought up a chip on his shoulder over how Chicago treated him during 2018 restricted free agency.

But executives aren’t necessarily going on only a quote. If LaVine is serious about the possibility of leaving that Bulls, he and his agent (Rich Paul) could already be signaling that to teams. Newsflash: Free agency begins before it officially opens.

Of course, LaVine could also be planning to re-sign while just trying to gain leverage on Chicago. His max contract with the Bulls projects to be about $212 million over five years (or about $157 million elsewhere). Given his ongoing knee issues, the 27-year-old might have to negotiate to get a fully guaranteed max deal.

Or maybe LaVine really has his sights set on leaving. DeMar DeRozan had a career year, and Chicago still didn’t come close to winning a playoff series. The Bulls can hope for better health late next season. But DeRozan will be 33 and Nikola Vucevic 32. Though younger, Lonzo Ball has his own concerning knee issues.

Chicago might even prefer a sign-and-trade. With limited cap space around the league, few teams will be able to sign LaVine outright. The Bulls could get assets for a new direction rather than lock into a huge deal with LaVine.

LaVine has built himself into a star. Barring damaging intel on his knee, he’ll have multiple good options this summer. In Chicago and beyond.

There’s increased intrigue on where he’ll end up.