In the diabolical words of the Joker: Here. We. Go.
If Zach LaVine’s end-of-year press conference wasn’t enough to make Chicago Bulls fans nervous, the words of ESPN’s Brian Windhorst might. The NBA Insider recently spoke about LaVine’s free agency on the most recent episode of The Hoop Collective podcast. And while he didn’t say it was time for anyone in Chicago to press the panic button, he did suggest that league executives now believe the 2x All-Star could be had this summer (emphasis mine).
“I’ll just use his quote: ‘I plan to enjoy free agency. We’re going to have to experience A through Z without making any fast decisions. I think that’s something me and agent Rich Paul are going to experience.’
And, subsequently, as I talked to league executives … There is now some belief that Zach could be in play – that what a lot of people thought was a foregone conclusion of Zach staying in Chicago on whatever deal it may be may not be the case. As you look at options for this summer, maybe Zach LaVine is in play if you’re willing to give the max,” Windhorst said.
Ok. Deep breaths. Let’s first make one thing clear: We should have expected at least some kind of report like this with LaVine’s unrestricted free agency on the horizon. Not only were his own words enough to perk-up ears around the league, but this is how free agency goes, particularly for talent as coveted as LaVine. It’s advantageous for LaVine’s leverage to have this kind of doubt out there in the market, and it’s also advantageous for league executives to stir up this kind of news.
Speaking of which, that brings up another key point we should note right off the bat. Windhorst says this information is coming from league executives. In other words, he doesn’t suggest that this information is coming via Rich Paul or members of Klutch, LaVine’s agency. Multiple front offices are going to say they hope or believe that one of the top free agents on the board becomes gettable. They want to keep the door open, and they also wouldn’t hate to put pressure on another team to pay the absolute top dollar to retain their player.
Now, does that mean I’m not worried? Of course not! As much as we may have expected these rumors, they are still rumors that suggest LaVine could be headed elsewhere this summer. The information also alludes to the fact that other organizations might be more aggressive in their pursuit than previously thought.
And Windhorst already named one specific organization to keep an eye on (emphasis mine, again): “As I talked to executives, and they saw what LaVine said and they see what the Blazers can do, that scenario has popped up.”
The Portland Trail Blazers are not currently in a position to make a run at LaVine. However, as Bobby Marks goes on to map out in his conversation with Windhorst, they do have a relatively easy path toward creating cap space by waiving players like Josh Hart and Eric Bledsoe. Yes, the option of a sign-and-trade deal can always be considered, as well. But there isn’t a great reason for Portland to do this if they can create cap space on their own relatively easily. A sign-and-trade would hard cap the franchise, thus making it harder to add more to next season’s roster.
Portland’s front office does appear ready to fiercely hunt for roster upgrades. While the team finished 27-55 this season, they entered full-blown tank mode after Damian Lillard’s injury sidelined him for the year. Planning to keep Lillard in town and quickly rebuilding toward contention in the West, adding a player like LaVine would certainly make that process easier.
At the same time, we have to wonder if LaVine would want to take the risk of joining a franchise that just finished 13th in the West. Even with Lillard on the roster, it feels like their recent history could be a deterrent, right? Not to mention, the upstairs operations appear up in the air, and LaVine saw first-hand how much dysfunctional leadership can hamper growth while in Chicago.
Portland is close to LaVine’s hometown of Seattle, though, and the Blazers have a 9.0 percent shot to earn the No. 1 pick in the draft and a 37.2 percent chance to earn a top-4 selection. Lillard plus an instant-impact lottery pick could make Portland that much more of an attractive landing spot for LaVine, especially when we consider the Western Conference isn’t as fierce as it once was.
Nevertheless, I have a really hard time believing that LaVine would risk it all and take less money to join an unknown commodity like the Trail Blazers. I would expect that – if anything – he would look for a more proven product, thus giving the Bulls an opportunity to pursue a sign-and-trade.
But let’s be clear: The Bulls remain the most obvious home for LaVine this summer.
Windhorst made sure to point out that this could all just be posturing to ensure the Bulls hand LaVine a blank check. And he also noted that he’s heard nothing but positive comments about LaVine’s happiness in Chicago. So take that as you will.
I know, it’s a lot. But we might as well get used to these kinds of conversations and rumors over the next couple of months. We’re simply not going to know exactly how this ends until the pen is put to paper in July (even if I remain pretty convinced LaVine stays in Chicago).