Some executives around the NBA who once viewed Zach LaVine as a lock to re-sign with the Bulls are now less certain about what the All-Star guard will do this offseason, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said in his latest Hoop Collective podcast.
“Executives in the league kind of thought that Zach LaVine was off the market, was going to stay in Chicago,” Windhorst said. “And they really thought that after Zach, at midseason, got checked out for three or four days in Southern California and he pretty much admitted he probably needed knee surgery. … Executives in the league thought, ‘Well, if the Bulls and Zach are on the same page about him playing on a hurt knee, they must have an understanding that he’s going to get a contract.’
“… Subsequently, as I’ve talked to league executives, there’s now some belief that Zach could be in play, that what a lot of people thought was a foregone conclusion of Zach staying in Chicago – on whatever deal it was going to be – may not be the case.”
As Windhorst explains, much of that uncertainty among league executives stems from comments LaVine made after the season when he discussed his upcoming unrestricted free agency. The 27-year-old said he was looking forward to being a free agent and would be “open-eyed” and “look into everything.” He was also noncommittal when asked if the Bulls were the clubhouse leaders to sign him.
There aren’t a ton of teams that make sense as suitors for LaVine, since only a small handful of clubs will have significant cap space and most of those clubs don’t project to be contenders. However, Windhorst – noting that LaVine is from Seattle – points to the Trail Blazers as one possible wild card to watch.
Theoretically, the Blazers could clear enough cap space to offer LaVine a maximum-salary deal by waiving Josh Hart and Eric Bledsoe (whose salaries aren’t fully guaranteed), renouncing Jusuf Nurkic‘s free agent cap hold, and forfeiting their $20MM+ trade exception, as ESPN’s Bobby Marks stated on The Hoop Collective. Having that path to cap room could also give them leverage to try to negotiate a sign-and-trade deal with Chicago.
“I’m not saying that’s a done deal,” Windhorst said when his ESPN colleague Nick Friedell questioned whether the Blazers would really want to pair LaVine and Damian Lillard. “I’m just saying that as I’ve talked to league executives, when they saw what LaVine said and what they see the Blazers can do, that scenario has popped up.”
While it’s possible that the Blazers or another team will make a play for LaVine this summer, a new deal with the Bulls still seems to me like the most probable outcome. As Sean Highkin of Bleacher Report observes (via Twitter), it may be in the best interest of LaVine’s camp to float potential suitors like Portland in order to ensure that the Bulls offer him a max contract.
Chicago will have the ability to offer LaVine a projected $212.3MM over five years, while any other team would be limited to a max offer of $157.4MM over four years.