Trade Zach LaVine or ride the road to mediocrity? Bulls must decide
LaVine’s stock has never been higher, but his financial demands also will be on the rise. So if the right deal comes along by the deadline, the Bulls need to move him for his sake and theirs.
Thad Young’s screen wasn’t a good one.
Not that it mattered to guard Zach LaVine.
With the Bulls down by three to the Clippers in the final seconds Sunday, LaVine didn’t have the option of looking for a teammate. In the last three seasons, that option seldom has presented itself in those situations. So when Clippers guard Patrick Beverley slid around Young’s attempted pick and got into LaVine’s right side, the shot already was up.
LaVine called it a good look.
The ball disagreed. Air ball, Clippers win, Bulls slip to 4-7.
So what is the state of the team 11 games into a less-than-kind 2020-21 schedule? Actually, better than expected. There has been improved fight, a real offense rather than the gimmicky product seen last season and some development.
If the goal is to get back to the postseason in the next two seasons, grab that fifth or sixth spot and be a one-and-done, the Bulls are on their way back to mediocrity.
If, however, there are championship aspirations and a hope for sustained excellence? Then now is the time to strike. If the right deal presents itself, the Bulls need to move LaVine by the trade deadline.
This is not an indictment of LaVine. If anything, it would be a chance for him to better his situation and possibly join a team with immediate postseason chances. It’s a scenario he deserves.
LaVine is the consummate teammate. He’s coachable and a hard worker.
Off the court, he’s the guy you’d want to marry your daughter. On the court, however, he’s also the guy who’s about to demand a max salary just when the current Bulls reboot is about to grab traction.
It’s simple math, and the numbers are on a collision course. They just don’t add up.
LaVine is the fourth-highest scorer in the league at 27.7 points per game. He’s also the only player in the top 10 to have a player-efficiency rating below 21, but let’s not nitpick.
He’s also about 55th in player salary this season and scheduled to be 53rd next season. So somebody is due a serious raise.
Now if LaVine was willing to talk extension with the Bulls and accept a hometown discount for $23 million to $27 million per year over three years, it would be pen to paper without blinking for the organization. The problem is, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
According to a source, LaVine is not only looking for All-Star respect but financial respect. The sides could’ve agreed on a team-friendly three-year, $76 million deal before the season started but moved on from it.
The organization has to ask itself if it wants to commit $30 million to $35 million per year for a player who has elite scoring ability but deficiencies in the rest of his game that nullify the likelihood of him turning into an alpha on a championship team.
Here are a few important factors to consider: The last shooting-guard-driven team to win a title was Kobe Bryant’s Lakers in 2010, and LaVine is no Bryant. The last nine NBA champions have one common piece — a forward who can defend multiple positions. Also, the 2021 free-agent class that was supposed to be historic has quickly dried up, so help isn’t exactly on the way. And, finally, the 2021 NBA Draft might be loaded with forwards and a few point guards with possible generational talent.
If the Bulls remain lottery-bound and can trade LaVine for a second lottery pick or a pick just outside the lottery as well as an expiring contract, they should pull the trigger.
Rookie Patrick Williams could be a poor man’s Kawhi Leonard. At worst, he’s a bigger, better version of Boston’s Jaylen Brown, and that’s not too shabby.
That’s the building piece.
Otherwise, pay LaVine and stay the course. Mediocrity awaits.