Figuring out Zach LaVine’s situation is the Bulls’ biggest priority this summer when it comes to free agency. The 23-year-old is set to hit restricted free agency after playing just 24 games for the Bulls, and a good chunk of those 24 games were ugly. That wasn’t a big surprise given he was coming back from an ACL tear, but now the Bulls are in line to make a significant financial commitment to him.
Just how much will LaVine get this summer? The fact that not many teams will have cap space will limit the market, but Yahoo Sports’ Shams Charania recently said on Chris Mannix’s podcast (via) that it’ll still require at least close to max money to re-sign the guard. Shams said this about LaVine and Aaron Gordon:
“I think both teams are aware that they need to go to a max number for them, but the question will be are they going to make them go get a sheet. The sentiment I’ve gotten ... is if Zach LaVine goes and gets a max that we have too much invested in him.”
I’m willing to cut LaVine slack for his poor first season with the Bulls. He’s a better offensive player than he showed and has clear potential as an impact player on that end. But he still has a long way to go to reach that potential, and his defense has been horrible his entire career. Investing a max or near-max deal that’s over $25 million annually would be a major risk and one the Bulls would have to really think about not taking, though I suspect they’ll keep LaVine at all costs after he was the centerpiece of the Jimmy Butler trade.
I still would be surprised if LaVine got that kind of money from anybody else, and the Bulls are infamously stingy in these kinds of negotiations. However, it only takes one team to throw everything out of whack. Let’s just hope this information is effectively his agent trying to drum up value.
Nwaba enjoyed a solid season with the Bulls after they picked him up off waivers last summer. He’s a guy I’d like to keep around as a reserve, though the Bulls should not rush into a long-term contract like they did with Cristiano Felicio.
I’d be fine with a short-term deal of two or three years, perhaps with a team option or non-guaranteed money on the back end. In terms of price, something in the range of the taxpayer mid-level exception (about $5.5 million) makes sense. I’d be willing to pay a bit more if he has a robust market and other teams are looking to go higher (the full mid-level is nearly $9 million for 2018-19), but the Bulls should be careful not to lock in a decent chunk of change for a limited and undersized wing.