Chicago Bulls superstar guard Zach LaVine made headlines on Monday and Tuesday. On Monday night, TMZ spotted LaVine in Los Angeles, where he said he has, “Always been a big fan” of the Lakers. On Tuesday, Bleacher Report’s Jake L. Fischer reported multiple league sources have mentioned the Atlanta Hawks as a potential destination for LaVine.
Also on Tuesday, K.C. Johnson reported on Chicago radio’s 670 The Score that the Bulls are very confident they can re-sign LaVine.
So there’s a lot going on already this week.
LaVine averaged 24.4 points this season for Chicago on high end efficiency. He was the highest scorer in the league to not lead their own team; Bulls new arrival DeMar DeRozan took that torch, putting up 27.9 points per night while taking 2.5 more field goal attempts than LaVine. This development has been cited numerous teams as the primary factor that may drive LaVine to desire other teams. He had been Chicago’s leading scorer all four prior years he’d been a Bull: 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021.
The 27 year old shooting guard had been used to a role as the unquestioned alpha dog and shot taker. Last year, before the team traded for DeRozan, he posted 27-5-5 on 51/42/85 shooting splits. Which is at the very upper tier of the very upper echelon of scorers.
Suffice to say, the Seattle native and UCLA product is a desirable star to have in the fold, for any team. As an unrestricted free agent, LaVine can command a 5 year, $212 million max deal from the Bulls because they are his current team. Any other team can offer LaVine a max deal of 4 years, $157 million. That’s an annual average value difference of $42 million versus $39 million, and $55 million overall.
If the two sides can’t come to terms, or if LaVine decides he wants to play in a different situation, he would be sign-and-traded to another team. As an unrestricted free agent, he could simply walk, but no team has the outright cap space to sign him to the max deal he’ll command.
Here’s frameworks for seven potential suitors:
SAN ANTONIO SPURS
Bulls receive: Keldon Johnson, Jakob Poeltl, Romeo Langford
Spurs receive: Zach LaVine, Javonte Green, Tony Bradley
The Bulls receive a young player who is already starting caliber and a 40% three-point shooter in Keldon Johnson. Keldon is still developing, too, which gives the Bulls great upside. He won an Olympic gold medal for coach Gregg Popovich in 2021. Jakob Poeltl is an All-Defense level big man to pair with defensively shoddy Nikola Vucevic. Romeo Langford is a benchwarmer who once upon a time allegedly had potential.
San Antonio is the team I personally want LaVine to land with the most. He and first-time All-Star Dejounte Murray would become one of the two best backcourts in the league alongside Golden State. Murray is a pass-first point guard who averaged 21-8-9 this year while leading the NBA in steals. Murray was the youngest player ever selected to an All-Defensive team (21 years old in his second season). He was fourth among all players in assists and second among all guards in rebounding (Doncic).
Simply put, he’s the perfect fit for LaVine. And LaVine’s perimeter scoring ability + rim pressure is perfect for Dejounte, who has a middling jump shot. I can’t get over how awesome this would be period, and especially for a Spurs team who has yet to find its competitive direction since Kawhi Leonard left. Poeltl is genuinely a lot to lose and could be a sticking point, but the Spurs have the 9th pick in the draft and could find a quality replacement.
The Spurs have the most cap space in the league, so they don’t really have to send matching salaries back. This makes them one of the easier teams to make deals with.
PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
Bulls receive: 7th overall pick, Josh Hart, Eric Bledsoe
Trail Blazers receive: Zach LaVine
Being from Seattle, Portland is reportedly a super attractive city to LaVine. Reports corroborate that family is of high priority for any destination. The Trail Blazers are brazenly in win-now mode, and have toys to play with. The 7th overall pick is obviously of high value.
Josh Hart is a winning player who played easily the best basketball of his life in Portland: 20-5-4 on 50/37/77 shooting with top notch defense in 13 games, 15-7-4 on 50% on the year with New Orleans. If the Bulls believe Hart can handle an expanded role like that, his defense and rebounding fill the two largest holes on their roster. The Bulls were all offense no stops last season. Eric Bledsoe is a $19 million expiring that would free up even more cap for the Bulls in a much better 2023 free agent class. He’s good enough to play real minutes and has been selected to two All-Defense teams.
Not sure I loved this package at first glance for Chicago, but it quickly grew on me. If you don’t think it’s enough, Portland has Keon Johnson as an upside swing; he’s a high ceiling player who was picked 21st overall last June. They have pick 36 also, or they can lift the protections (1-14) on their 2023 first round pick, which Chicago already owns.
The Trail Blazers appear dead set on keeping Damian Lillard and building a winner around him. LaVine shares a scary amount of similarities to the recently traded and proven-not-to-win-enough-with-Dame CJ McCollum, but he’s also better at pretty much everything. Portland is just desperate for players at the moment. If they re-sign RFA Anfernee Simons, they’ll have all of four players under contract that played 40 games for them last season. Empty rosters need buckets more than anything. Those aren’t easy to come by.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS
Bulls receive: Russell Westbrook, Talen Horton-Tucker, 2027 first round pick, Bulls’ 2023 second round pick, positive vibes
Lakers receive: Zach LaVine, Javonte Green
There’s nothing to this if it doesn’t include the pre-eminence of The Purple And Gold. I’m sorry. Wax me if I’m wrong. We only have to write this up because it’s the Lakers. The Bulls don’t want Russ because no one does; his value is entirely in the fact that he is a $47 million expiring contract, and that’s a max slot on its own. I do believe Russ is extremely underrated right now, and was much more broken than he actually is playing alongside LeBron James and 40 games of Anthony Davis. He can hoop for real still.
Bulls head coach Billy Donovan coached Westbrook in Oklahoma City to multiple Conference Finals’ and his MVP. But next to DeMar and Lonzo Ball after the disaster fit in LA?
Talen Horton-Tucker is over-hated, too. He’s a nice wing with quality defense and weird offense. The plus-est wing span in the NBA at 6’4″ with 7’1″ arms. He was extended by LAL for a reason. The first round pick in 2027 has value because the Lakers’ current roster build is so myopic that they’re basically guaranteed to be a bottom 10 or 5 team in five years. Bulls can get next year’s second back too. Whoopee!
It’s not that the package is nothing entirely, but Zach can yield better, and the Bulls want to win long term. Their window isn’t next season. Maybe that actually makes this package better, but the face value is just bottom-tier. Javonte Green is here because the Lakers have six players under contract, and five players under contract with this trade. He can actually play in the NBA, so they’ll beg for him to be tossed in.
Bulls receive: Bogdan Bogdanovic, Danilo Gallinari, 16th pick, 44th pick
Hawks receive: Zach LaVine
The Bulls need shooting more than any other playoff team in the league. They took the least threes in the league because they couldn’t hit them. Bogie and Gallo (desirable $21m expiring) change that. Two picks can help them change it further, whether that be flipping them again or selecting two ready-now guys.
The Hawks need someone else who can dribble and get a bucket next to Trae Young. Trae needs help badly. He got erased by the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs because taking him away makes the Hawks essentially lose automatically. They didn’t even have a true backup point guard. Delon Wright was it and he’s a free agent. LaVine is used to handling the ball in high volume and scoring the ball in high volume. Young may be the best point guard in the league next season (depending on how the guy with a blue bridge on his jersey plays), and he has no one else who can dribble on his team.
Bulls receive: 4th overall pick, Davion Mitchell, Harrison Barnes
Kings receive: Zach LaVine, Ayo Dosunmu, pick 18
The Bulls get a great pick that they can use to draft Jaden Ivey, Shaedon Sharpe, or move for something else major. Davion Mitchell was one of the 20 best defensive guards as a rookie, and showed great passing chops and a developing three ball. He was the best player on national champion Baylor the year before, shooting 45% from three and winning Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. Harrison Barnes is a consummate vet who knows how to play winning basketball and solves a big wing hole in the Windy City, and is an $18m expiring. Those keep showing up, and they have value.
The Kings seem to have an internal mandate to make the playoffs. De’Aaron Fox boasts elite rim pressure, is one of the fastest guards in the league, and can really dish. He and Domantas Sabonis are the two cornerstones of the Kings’ franchise, locked in until 2026 and 2024 respectively. And neither of them can shoot. Enter LaVine, top 10 perimeter scorer, whose contract would run through 2026 as well.
Bulls receive: Jalen Brunson, Tim Hardaway Jr., Dwight Powell
Mavericks receive: Zach LaVine
Jalen Brunson can run offense and shoot threes. He put on 16-4-5 this year on 50/37/84 next to Luka Doncic, and has turned up in the playoffs to the tune of 23-5-4. The two-time national champ at Villanova is getting paid this offseason in unrestricted free agency, so the Mavericks have just as much incentive to make a sign-and-trade.
Hardaway, Jr. has been hurt since January, not playing a minute in Dallas’ Western Conference Finals run. At times when Kristaps Porzingis was still in town and hurt, THJ was the Mavs’ second-best player. Dwight Powell is a competent center, something the Bulls VERY conspicuously do not have besides Nikola Vucevic. Powell is a quality backup. Tristan Thompson was getting embarrassed down the stretch of the year.
The Mavericks have desperately needed a co-star to top 5 player in the world Luka Doncic, since he arrived in Dallas. They thought they had one when they swung for Kristaps Porzingis, but he’s gone now. LaVine takes tons and tons of scoring and ball handling pressure off of Luka. He fits even better with third guard Spencer Dinwiddie than Brunson did, giving them well-run offense to work with all 48 minutes long.
Including Tim Hardaway, Jr. versus 3 and D wing Dorian Finney-Smith could be a sticking point in this deal, but both guys are locked up on fair long term deals. Including Brunson versus Spencer Dinwiddie could be snag as well, but Brunson’s free agency loses leverage. Dinwiddie costing less money and offering better defense and better rebounding makes it easier to swallow.
Bulls receive: Kyrie Irving
Nets receive: Zach LaVine
If Kyrie doesn’t want to stay in Brooklyn or if Brooklyn doesn’t want to move forward with Kyrie, and the same happens with LaVine, this star swap could help both teams. Not too serious, but not at all a joke potential outcome. I’m sure there’d be more moving parts. Maybe. It works straight up.