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In a 2018 Free Agent Projection Rankings, Zach LaVine comes in at number 19

ESPN’s metrics do not project much from this part of the Bulls’ “core”

Boston Celtics v Chicago Bulls Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

With the 2018 NBA draft in the rear-view mirror, attention now turns to how the Chicago Bulls will handle the restricted free agency of shooting guard Zach LaVine.

If General Manager Gar Forman and Vice President of Basketball Operations John Paxson view LaVine as a franchise cornerstone, the Bulls can max him out on a $146 million contract across five seasons. If it were up to ESPN insider Kevin Pelton, LaVine shouldn’t even come close to that kind of money.

In a Monday morning article, Pelton ranked his top 30 impending (restricted and unrestricted) free agents. The methodology is complicated, but includes his previously constructed SCHOENE model wrapped up with ESPN’s real plus-minus statistic and box score stats which all combine to determine how many wins above replacement player (WARP) a free agent will be worth over the next three years.

In a top-heavy free agent class, LaVine slotted in all the way down at No. 19 with a projected three-season accumulation of 11.4 WARP. He finished behind guys like Isaiah Thomas, Tyreke Evans, Elfrid Payton, and JJ Redick.

Here’s Pelton on LaVine.

Coming back from a torn ACL and playing a larger role than he had with the Minnesota Timberwolves, LaVine predictably struggled last season, making 34 percent of his 3s and a career-low 41 percent of his 2s. While we should expect LaVine to shoot better going forward, that performance might have been cause for concern in Chicago. ESPN’s Nick Friedell indicated last week that the Bulls are not certain they’d match an offer sheet to the restricted free agent, which contrasts from the usual bluster we hear from teams looking to scare off suitors.

Not exactly what Bulls fans want to hear...

However, there are a number of factors conspiring to suggest that LaVine will continue to wear a Bulls uniform next season at a manageable price.

As meticulously detailed over at Bulls Confidential recently, only a handful of NBA teams have meaningful cap space at their disposal this summer. Of course, all it takes is one team, and as mentioned in that post you see the Kings, Mavericks, and Sixers could all be lurking. But overall, the competition in the free agent market may not be as fierce as in previous seasons.

There’s also these kind of analyses of LaVine, which can lessen the amount he’s offered if teams are wary he’ll make the necessary changes to his game while also still recovering from a serious injury.

There is a large gulf between the Bulls doubling-down on their Jimmy Butler trade return with a max offer, and LaVine ‘betting on himself’ by playing out a one-year, $4.4 million qualifying offer. LaVine will likely have to go out and get that range of contract from another team and make the Bulls decide whether or not to match.