Bulls star Zach LaVine opened plenty of eyes with his exit interview a couple of weeks ago, refusing to commit to the Bulls while emphasizing his plan to “enjoy” free agency. This set off some alarm bells suggesting LaVine is on his way out, but more likely it was just an opening salvo from a Klutch Sports client who wants to make sure he gets paid what he thinks he’s worth.
What LaVine thinks he’s worth is a max contract.
While there’s no reason to panic right now, we shouldn’t be surprised if there’s plenty of talk and rumors about LaVine potentially going elsewhere this summer. He’s one of the top players on the market, and Klutch will do what it can for leverage purposes to make sure the Bulls put a max offer on the table. They can offer a five-year deal worth over $212 million.
Sure enough, Tuesday brought chatter from ESPN’s Brian Windhorst on The Hoop Collective podcast about how people around the NBA are saying there’s an increased chance of LaVine leaving and that the Trail Blazers could be a possible destination. The Blazers have another star in Damian Lillard and are looking to quickly reload around him after tanking this season because of his injury, among other things. Portland could theoretically open up a lot of cap space and is close to home (Washington) for LaVine, who also played with Dame on Team USA in the last Olympics.
However, Sean Highkin over at Bleacher Report did a nice job debunking the idea of LaVine going to the Blazers:
In short, the Blazers are exactly the type of team you’d expect LaVine’s powerful and influential agency, Klutch Sports Group, to float as a potential threat to sign him if Chicago doesn’t pony up for the full five-year max.
From Portland’s end, a serious pursuit of LaVine is extremely unlikely and bordering on completely unrealistic.
Highkin notes that to open up the cap space it would require to get LaVine (over $36 million), the Blazers would have to dump key free agents like Anfernee Simons and Jusuf Nurkic while also waiving the non-guaranteed Josh Hart. They would also have to ditch their $20.9 million trade exception from the CJ McCollum trade. They also have Eric Bledsoe on a partially guaranteed deal for over $19 million, which could be used in a trade. Because of all this, Highkin says it’s likelier Portland operates as an over-the-cap team.
The Blazers could still make a run at LaVine as an over-the-cap team with the intention of working out a sign-and-trade, but that would give the Bulls more leverage. And in any case, would LaVine really leave a big market like Chicago after finally making the playoffs to go play with an aging Damian Lillard in Portland? It is close to home, but it just doesn’t seem likely ... assuming the Bulls pay up.
Perhaps LaVine is really serious about exploring his options, but a lot of this feels like it comes down to Chicago simply offering that full max. Perhaps there are some negotiations in terms of years or even injury protections because of his knee issues, but if the Bulls take care of LaVine, one has to think he’ll be back. He could always ask for a trade if he’s unhappy in the coming years.
But until that deal is signed, Klutch will make sure to keep the pressure up on the Bulls. That means leaking other suitors and potential interest elsewhere, in addition to LaVine’s public comments. And because of the nature of the free agency beast, it’s why we’ll get stuff like this:
This is completely hypothetical, but who says no? pic.twitter.com/vbvhZSWaDY— Keyshawn, JWill & Max (@KeyJayandMax) May 11, 2022