“In The Scope With Joshua M. Hicks” is a weekly column from the lead columnist of WARR
When the Chicago Bulls pulled the blockbuster trade of last year’s off-season — shipping Jimmy Butler to the Timberwolves for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the seventh overall pick in the draft (Lauri Markkanen) — the Bulls made it priority to start the rebuilding process and this off-season they confirmed the rebuild will continue with LaVine being its franchise cornerstone.
Though over time reports stating that confidence in the 23-year-old LaVine has disintegrating in the Bulls front office, they proved those rumors to be false, and when faced to match a qualifying offer of 4 years and $78 million fully guaranteed to the restricted free agent by the Sacramento Kings, the Bulls wasted little time in letting the public know that they would be matching.
There are some pros and cons with this decision, but long-term it could be the best deal the Bulls could ever make in such a crucial period. LaVine’s contract is an ideal deal, considering this year’s free agency market is fairly dry and the money is simply is not there for all marquee players that are looking for more long-term deals with higher pay raises.
Long-term, LaVine’s agreement will not hurt the salary cap, especially next year when all the top free agents will be available and the salary cap is scheduled to rise. The deal also makes the contract a trade-able asset if LaVine’s stay in Chicago unexpectedly ends early. But most importantly, the contract gives LaVine the opportunity to not just secure the bag long-term like he has always wanted, but also show the Bulls that he is the perfect person to be the face of the franchise.
“I know what I’m worth, man,” LaVine said this week to ESPN’s Nick Friedell.
“I put a lot of hard work into this…I came back last year. I played in 24 games. We had an understanding. I’m just getting back on the court. I’m able to get my rhythm down and things like that…at the end of the day, I believe in myself, I believe in my work, and I’m going to show the city of Chicago it’s a good choice and I’m here to stay. I’m going to be their guy, and I’m ready to do whatever to help this team get back to that spot.”
LaVine, who averaged 17 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists on 38 percent shooting and 35% from the three in the 24 games played last season, is just entering the beginning of his prime, he won’t turn 24 until March of next year.
A freak of nature athletically, with great length and versatility across the perimeter, LaVine is the most athletic talent the Bulls have had from the guard position since Derrick Rose, with the ability to be an ultimate play-maker offensively, creating scoring opportunities for himself and others, while also having the on-ball defensive ability to potentially be considered one of the top two-way players in the league.
In today’s NBA, all of those skillsets that LaVine brings, aligned with an improving young core starring a defensive-minded point guard in Dunn, a versatile power forward in Markkanen and versatile incoming rookies Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchinson, the upside shows tremendous promise and the Bulls rebuilding process can relatively speed up with the possibility of automatic contention in the weakened Eastern Conference with LeBron James now out West.
More than anything, LaVine’s improvement will dictate the Bulls future success. The franchise is taking a risk on the unpredictable future of a player that is coming off an ACL injury and played less than half of last season. And we cannot forget the tough past this franchise has had with ACL injuries and prospective franchise players — just look at hometown hero D-Rose, who missed 257 games over eight seasons before being traded to the Knicks in 2016.
We also can not forget that the Bulls at one point thought Jimmy Butler was their guy and signed him to a similar contract before ending his stay early. The potential is there and the window of winning opportunity is open once again.
The challenge of elevating a legendary franchise out a rebuilding process rests on LaVine’s shoulders, hopefully he can deliver what the fans in the Madhouse on Madison truly deserve.
Joshua M. Hicks is a Chicago-based sports writer and broadcaster, follow him on Twitter @jhicks042; Follow We Are Regal Radio on Twitter @regalradio1 and on Facebook under We Are Regal Radio