Is Zach LaVine worth a max contract for the Chicago Bulls this offseason?

Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports /

Zach LaVine will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, leaving the Chicago Bulls with a tough decision.

Zach LaVine has the opportunity to solidify the next five years of his career in the coming months. The two-time All-Star is set to make his playoff debut with the Chicago Bulls in April after four seasons with the team. Quality postseason play could land LaVine a huge payday when the time comes.

LaVine is eligible for a five-year, $200 million deal this summer if he re-signs with the Bulls. That number is even higher if he makes an All-NBA team. He can get a four-year $160 million deal if he signs with another team.

"“Free agency is going to be a big milestone for me,” LaVine told Yahoo Sports. “It’s my first time going into it really being [an] unrestricted free agent. I dealt with it being restricted before so it’s a whole new experience.”"

LaVine has been part the free agency windstorm before as a restricted free agent. In 2018, he almost left the Bulls for the Sacramento Kings, who offered LaVine $78 million. The Bulls matched that offer, retaining him for the following years.

At the time, he was a year removed from his ACL surgery — an injury that could’ve significantly taken away from his production. Instead, he improved his outside shooting and passing to become one of the best players in the game. This season, he’s averaging 24 points, four assists and five rebounds per game on 48% shooting from the field and 39% shooting from 3-point range.

Is Zach LaVine worth a max contract for the Chicago Bulls?

That production has helped the Bulls become a contender in a stacked Eastern Conferece. He has established himself as the second fist in the Bulls’ dynamic one-two punch with DeMar DeRozan. His most undervalued role, and arguably his best attribute, is his vocal leadership on the team. Of Chicago’s stars, LaVine is the most vocal on and off the court, specifically with their young role players.

His value is undeniable on this particular Bulls team. Considering he’s in line for a max contract, the Bulls have to be cautious in over-pricing that value. The Bulls are building a contending team, but aren’t done yet. They need one to two more pieces in order to really be true title contenders. Signing LaVine to a max contract would have him eating up 30% of the salary cap, adding up to nearly $213 million over five years.

LaVine is also battling knee pain that forced him to get his left knee drained and have a lubricant injected in Los Angeles prior to the All-Star Break. His explosion hasn’t been the same during the second half of the year. The soreness he’s dealing with is in the same knee he suffered a torn ACL, which doesn’t seem like a promising sign for the future. While his jump shot has gotten significantly better since entering the league, his game is still predicated on slashing. Without explosion, his game isn’t max value.

To worsen LaVine’s case, he’ll be eligible for a “supermax” if he makes an All-NBA team. According to The Athletic, a supermax contract for LaVine would carry a starting salary of $42.4 million and, with annual eight-percent escalators, earn him in the neighborhood of $248 million over five years. If that’s the case, the Bulls will likely have to part ways with him.

What LaVine wants to take hasn’t been expressed. Publicly, he has states that he knows his worth and wants to be paid just that.

"“I think we all get what we deserve at the level we play at, for our team and around the league. I think I stack up with everybody at that level,” he said. “We’ll let the chips fall. Is the [max] the goal? I don’t know if it’s the goal, but I should be getting what I deserve. I’ll let them tell me what that is and we’ll go from there.”"

Free agency is four months away. LaVine’s knee and play will have a huge say in what his financial ceiling is come July.

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