Looming over every single move the Chicago Bulls have made (and will continue to make) is Zach LaVine’s contract and current lack of extension.
The 26-year-old has one foot into his prime after earning his first All-Star nod last season. However, the upcoming 2021-22 season will be his last on a remarkably valuable contract that currently pays him just $19.5 million per year. With that being the case, the Bulls front office is able to open up extension talks this summer, and LaVine told reporters on Friday afternoon that those conversations will start soon.
Zach LaVine says he expects his contract situation with the Bulls "will play out the right way" and that they'll be in talks soon.
I'd guess it won't take, uh, max time to figure this one out.
— Tim Reynolds (@ByTimReynolds) July 9, 2021
Remember, this is what LaVine said at his end-of-season presser: "That’s what everybody wants–to get paid what they’re worth. When my time comes, I definitely will get that."
— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) July 9, 2021
To no surprise, he continues to sound comfortable and confident in a future with the Bulls, which also might give us some insight into how the front office has handled this whole situation. If LaVine is telling the truth and legitimately believes things will “play out the right way,” then the front office has likely made it clear to him that they fully intend to pay him everything he’s worth. But does that mean it will happen THIS offseason?
Let’s remember the standard contract extension the Bulls can offer LaVine will be far smaller than what he can make one year from now. The starting salary on an extension of this kind is allowed to be 120 percent of the final year of the player’s contract. However, since the $19.5 million LaVine is making this season is far under the market value for his level of production, it would be silly for him to accept an extension built off that number. If he waits until he becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2022, the first year of his salary would get roughly an $11 million bump.
Now, the Bulls do have the power to speak to LaVine about a renegotiation of his current contract. What that would give the organization the power to do is use this offseason’s cap space to bump up the final year of his deal and get him on basically the same path as next season’s max contract. Again, doing this would eat into the team’s cap space, thus restricting any other flexibility they have to improve the team this summer. I have to imagine the front office wants to drastically improve other areas of this roster, especially after the active trade deadline we saw, but maybe they are willing to sacrifice some of that for the security blanket of inking LaVine early. Maybe that is what LaVine views as the “right way.”
The alternative, of course, would be waiting for next summer. We can not rule out the fact that maybe LaVine does view this as the best possible path for everyone involved. They will briefly talk about a renegotiation but ultimately decide to spend the money on improving the roster and revisit LaVine’s deal after a (hopeful) playoff run. This direction leaves more room for a year-long festival of bad LaVine trade rumors, but it could also leave room for the team to achieve more immediate success in 2021-22.
Oh, well. LaVine said the talks will start soon, so it is only a matter of time before we get some more answers.