More Reports, More Questions Surrounding Zach LaVine's Free Agency

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More Reports, More Questions Surrounding Zach LaVine’s Free Agency

Chicago Bulls

After reports that Zach LaVine “could be in play” this summer and that his re-signing in Chicago was no longer a “slam dunk,” Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer has added to the uncertainty.

“The premise that Zach LaVine’s contract expiration would swiftly result in a lucrative extension with Chicago has dissolved, sources told B/R. However, the Bulls are still considered likely to retain LaVine on the open market.”

The good news is that every pessimistic report has come handcuffed to an almost identical caveat about the likelihood that Chicago re-signs their 2x All-Star. The bad news is that the greater the smoke, the greater the chance of fire. Thus, the potential of the Bulls losing LaVine arguably feels more likely than ever before.

To be fair, LaVine has earned that right. An unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career, not only does he have the privilege to choose his next home, but he has the privilege to make his current team sweat. He’s in a position to milk every last penny out of the organization that can offer him the most money – the Chicago Bulls – and I have to imagine that is at least part of the reason we continue to hear these rumors pop up.

Indeed, I think this leverage play is far more likely to be the root of these increasing reports, as opposed to the presumed rift between LaVine and DeMar DeRozan that continues to come up.

LaVar Ball first got the ball rolling when he told NBC Sports Chicago’s David Kaplan that he believed LaVine would leave due to a shrinking role next to DeRozan – the team’s 2022-23 leading scorer. Fischer of Bleacher Report has now given that idea an extra push with his most recent words about “league figures” implying the same thing:

One specific note has been frequently repeated by league figures with knowledge of the situation: The fourth quarter brilliance that put DeRozan in the MVP conversation often left LaVine watching from the corner as DeRozan isolated in the midpost.

This is not to suggest a rift between LaVine and DeRozan, but it provides necessary context as to why LaVine is suddenly viewed as a gettable free agent from rival front offices, as opposed to a straightforward extension case.

While it’s easy to ignore the loud-mouth commentary of LaVar Ball, it’s a bit less easy to move past what Fischer has to say. The thought that LaVine is unhappy alongside the very talent the Bulls aggressively pursued to make him happy is a scary belief, and it’s one we have to at least take somewhat seriously until the pen is put to paper in July.

At the same time, I still find it nearly impossible to believe this is actually what’s going on behind the scenes. LaVine called his pairing with DeRozan “a match made in heaven” multiple times this season, and rumor always had it he helped sell DeRozan on Chicago during free agency.

We also can’t forget the fact that – between a messed up finger and knee – LaVine was playing far under 100 percent for most of the season. Knowing his body is not performing at the level he’s grown accustomed to, it feels especially silly for him to be upset by the weight DeRozan has to carry. If anything, it helped him and the team still have a season considered successful by many.

Fischer is right when he says this apparent tension is “necessary context as to why LaVine is suddenly viewed as a gettable free agent from rival front offices,” but I think we have to keep in mind the “rival front offices” part of that. This is a super easy rumor to stir up between two All-Stars, and I suspect that’s what front offices will continue to do.

For what it’s worth, NBC Sports Chicago’s K.C. Johnson did join 670 The Score’s Mully & Haugh Tuesday morning to talk more about this LaVine situation. He reiterated that LaVine is now viewed as gettable by teams across the league, but he also emphasized that the Bulls still believe they will ink their face of the franchise to a long-term deal.

“The last line is that the safe bet is that Zach will return. And that’s kind of still where I am. I’m just reporting what I was hearing at the combine, and that is that multiple people connected to other teams, agents, etc, the representation of that chatter was that Zach is very much at play. Now, that said, the Bulls are very confident in their ability to re-sign Zach LaVine. Michael Reinsdorf has said it. Arturas Karnisovas has said it. They still have the power to pay him more than any other franchise.”

The organization only seemed to further imply their confidence in re-signing their All-Star with the announcement of a 2023 regular-season game in Paris. LaVine was featured in both the press release and promotional images.

Unfortunately, none of the chaos surrounding LaVine’s potential departure is going away any time soon. In fact, there is a big chance it ramps up, so all I can say is buckle up. And hope the Bulls Pony up.

Author: Elias Schuster

Elias Schuster is the Lead Bulls Writer at Bleacher Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @Schuster_Elias.