After his first three seasons in the NBA, Bulls guard Zach LaVine looked prime for a max deal. But injury struck the 23 year old guard and it set him back.
A max deal is out of the question, for now. LaVine only appeared in 24 games last season with the Bulls, averaging 16.7 points per game, but it was not enough to earn a max deal outright. There are still some flaws in his game, primarily on the defensive end, that is limiting him from becoming an elite player. If he did not get hurt, this would probably not be a topic of discussion.
LaVine became the face of the franchise after being acquired from Minnesota. His return in January was much anticipated and would finally join Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen in a quest to get the Bulls back to relevance. His debut came on January 13th vs. Detroit. Once Tommy Edwards said “FROM UCLA” the crowd erupted as they welcomed their new star to the United Center floor. It was the start of a new era.
There have been plenty of “flashes” from LaVine in his short time with the Bulls that yelled superstar and max player, but there were plenty of nights he struggled. Having a bad shooting night is one thing, but his defensive effort turned decent performances to bad ones. For someone who is that athletic and quick you would think defense would come easy, right? Nope. Playing defense cannot be taught, it’s a mentality. Kris Dunn has that mentality to shut down the opposing point guard. David Nwaba is relentless and his defense is what earned him a roster spot. LaVine’s defense is the next step in his development and something that hinders the talk of a max deal.
So what could a contract look like? It’s hard to pick an exact number. I don’t think he is worth $20 million a year yet but is $15M too small? Given his age, LaVine has a chance to become a star on a short term deal and get a max deal at 26-27 years old as he enters the prime of his career. John Paxson has continued to talk about the amount of cap space they will have next summer and a chance to land a big name free agent. I do not expect the Bulls to make any big moves this summer outside of brinning back LaVine, Nwaba, and maybe extending Bobby Portis. But next offseason, the Bulls could be a top landing spot for free agents.
Let’s get into the money talk. I would offer LaVine a four-year, $72 million dollar deal. That is an annual average of $18 million a year. Now if LaVine gets an offer sheet, the Bulls could end up paying more than they wanted to. There is no way you lose LaVine so paying more than you set price would have to be done. But getting back to the proposed deal, I think it’a a fair deal for someone who has proved he can average close to 20 points per game. His quickness and size allows him to attack the rim and he averages 37% from three in his career. If he was a better defender, a max deal would be on the table. Overall, this deal gives LaVine a shot to prove himself so at 27 he can score a big contract.
LaVine showed a lot of athleticism and scoring ability in 24 games with the Bulls last season. It will be very beneficial to have a full summer of work and be ready for training camp come September. I’m excited for the future of this team and it starts with draft night on June 21st.