Could Bulls execs’ hints on Zach LaVine in February change this summer?

Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls (Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images)
Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls (Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images) /

In February, Chicago Bulls general manager Artūras Karnišovas was asked his wish list ahead of the NBA trade deadline. He joked and said that he didn’t want a single player.

“My wish list was to get healthy,” Karnišovas said then.

Looking back, he may have needed to make a move at the deadline because his wish never came true. Zach LaVine and Alex Caruso were out for what was the Bulls’ final game of the season against the Milwaukee Bucks. Lonzo Ball is still out following knee surgery in January.

Injuries have been the thorn in the Bulls’ side all season. LaVine, Caruso, Patrick Williams and Lonzo Ball each missed extended time this season. The team also went through a COVID-19 outbreak in December that saw nine members of the team in health and safety protocols.

Throughout the year, fans and media speculated about just how good the Bulls could have been if they stayed healthy. That speculation spilled into the Bucks series, as Milwaukee’s role players thoroughly outplayed Chicago’s. Ball would have definitely made a difference in this series, as would a completely heathy LaVine, but alas.

What could have been if the Bulls stayed healthy for the postseason?

Once the offseason starts, Karnišovas will have to make big roster decisions, even if the team didn’t get an adequate sample size at full strength.

The biggest question that will have to be answered is whether or not Chicago will bring back LaVine. Bulls’ head coach Billy Donovan was already asked that question following the announcement of LaVine being in health and safety protocols. He downplayed the possibility of LaVine playing his final game as a Bull on Wednesday.

Plus, the answer to that question will be up to Karnišovas.

Is Zach LaVine worth bringing back on a max contract?

General managers generally address reporters at end of the season. Karnišovas will likely lightly answer the LaVine question then. In February, the answer seemed to be a definite yes.

"“We were pretty busy last trade deadline. We were pretty busy this summer. So we made a lot of changes. We’re pretty much looking for continuity,” Karnišovas said in February. “This group has shown we can compete in the Eastern Conference and our record reflects it. We were taking calls, but basically the mutual feeling with all our group was that let’s get our guys back and see what this group can do when they’re all healthy.”"

That answer came before the injuries completely piled up and the Bulls fell from the one seed to the six seed. Now that they lost Milwaukee in five games, with three of the five being blowouts, it would be hard for Karnišovas to have the same energy he had in February.

As for LaVine, he just wants to be paid what he’s worth, and that may differ between him and the team.

"“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.”"

LaVine has also made a point to declare his happiness in Chicago and the quality relationship he has with the team’s management.

If the Bulls decide to bring LaVine back, keeping the big three together presumably, they will likely enter luxury tax territory. Doing so would make it hard to bring in quality depth, something the roster clearly needs in order to compete with the real contenders. They would be relying on good role players signing on veteran minimums. Guys normally don’t do that unless they feel the stars on the team are championship-caliber players.

The jury is still out on whether the Bulls’ current big three are even second-round caliber players.

The offseason will definitely see roster changes — Karnišovas is likely to upgrade their interior presence off the bench and add at least one 3-and-D player. But the LaVine decision will likely be the biggest one of the offseason and influence the rest of their plans.

Next. Zach LaVine missing Game 5 vs Bucks might cloud Bulls’ free agency decision. dark