If the All-Star guard was willing to sacrifice salary for the good of continuing to try and build a winner, that was definitely not conveyed on Monday. LaVine sounded like a guy that wants a max deal, and not the one that this offseason would offer him.
If Zach LaVine was somehow softening on what his contract demands would be when that time comes, well, he had a funny way of showing it on Monday.
The Sun-Times, as well as several other media outlets, reported at the start of the season that LaVine was making it very well known that he would be looking for a max deal when the time came.
A few weeks ago, however, a source indicated that all the losing in now seven seasons was building up on LaVine, and he was willing to give a slight discount if that meant being able to afford role players to help him finally get over the postseason drought since he came into the NBA.
In his end-of-the-season presser, however, LaVine didn’t sound like a guy willing to sacrifice much in the financial department, even if that meant leaving his front office some loose change to try and reach the playoffs.
“It’s a thin line between that,’’ LaVine said. “I let all that stuff handle out when it’s done. I try to let my performance on the court dictate what I get paid. I think that’s what everybody wants, to get paid what they’re worth. When my time comes I definitely will get that. I think with different situations, different people taking less money or taking the max, it’s a business at the end of the day. I definitely want what I deserve, and whatever that is I’ll have it coming to me.’’
Here’s where it gets interesting, however.
LaVine, who has one year left on his deal, can negotiate a max contract this summer and get a healthy raise over the $19.5 million he will make next season, going to $23.4 million in the 2022-23 season, $25 million in the 2023-24 season, $27 million in the 2024-25 season, and $29 million in the final season.
That would give him what he wanted – the max, but also leave the Bulls in a very comfortable spot. However, if he says no deal on a contract this summer, finishes off next year and then hits the unrestricted free agent market, the Bulls could use his Bird rights to pay him the max, but now they would be looking at an average salary of close to $39 million per year through the 2025-26 season.
For a player that is an elite offensive threat, but still has a long way to go on the defensive end, that could really put the new regime in a tough spot.
Yes, the going rate for elite scorers might be that max money, but there is not one of those elite scorers in the two-guard spot that have carried their team to an NBA title in the last few decades without also being willing defenders.
“It’s something we’re going to have to talk about going forward,’’ LaVine said. “Obviously with the [Nikola Vucevic] trade, it made us a lot better. And I loved it. I love it here in Chicago. And I think everybody understands the business of basketball and anything can happen, trades like that, but for me personally I let that stuff handle when it comes by.’’
Executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas seemed to take a similar patient mindset in talking contract with his All-Star.
“Well, everything is going to go day-by-day,’’ Karnisovas said of his approach. “Obviously, we’re looking forward to talking to Zach in the future. I think looking at his numbers and how well he played this year, he improved [in many ways].
“Again, we sat down with Zach [in the exit meeting] and talked about this summer. Because we’re going to ask players to do more. Because obviously the results are telling us it’s not good enough. And he’s looking forward to the challenge. So we had those conversations.’’