If winning is the rule, Bulls might need to trade Zach LaVine

LaVine painted a masterpiece Wednesday, and if he wants to continue his artwork as a player maxing out at $25 million per year, by all means. But that doesn’t seem to be the case, and that’s why the Bulls would be smart to move him.

SHARE If winning is the rule, Bulls might need to trade Zach LaVine
A trade might work out best for both the Bulls and Zach LaVine.

A trade might work out best for both the Bulls and Zach LaVine.

Nam Y. Huh/AP

“Winning sets the rules — I don’t,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said recently.

He explained the remark a day later in the way he often does: in great detail, seldom taking a breath.

“The game maybe has evolved over 50 years, but winning hasn’t evolved,” Donovan said. “The game sets the rules of what you have to do. If you pick and choose, if you’re taking a play off or not executing, inevitably, you may get by because of your talent, or you may get by because of [an opponent’s] poor defense, but inevitably those kind of habits catch up to you. So when I say I don’t set the rules, I’m going off what we have to do to win as a team.”

It’s that belief that makes Zach LaVine a cautionary tale. His nine three-pointers in Wednesday’s 129-116 win over the Pelicans were artwork — his 46 points, seven rebounds and plus-20 in the plus/minus category a masterpiece.

But fully investing in LaVine is unlikely to bring the Bulls anything beyond mediocrity.

There will be more 46-point nights like Wednesday. But there won’t be real winning. The Bulls might advance from the early rounds of the playoffs, but legitimately chasing a championship — the goal of their new front office?

No, because winning sets the rules. If LaVine were willing to take an extension that pays him $75 million over three years, that would leave proper room to build around him. But history suggests it won’t happen. He felt disrespected in the 2018 offseason when the Bulls allowed him to test restricted free agency and he received an offer sheet from the Kings, which the Bulls matched. And as reported by multiple media outlets, including the Sun-Times, LaVine’s not about to be disrespected financially this time, with a likely three-year deal that nears $100 million for a one-way player.

James Harden and Bradley Beal are two other shooting guards who earn in that vicinity and are also, like LaVine, often allergic to playing defense. Harden, now with the Nets, entered Thursday ranked 111th out of 113 shooting guards in defensive real plus-minus. This after the Rockets paid him, surrounded him with future Hall of Famers like Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook, and made it to the Western Conference Finals twice, falling short each time. They eventually moved on from him at the start of the season.

Beal ranked 112th in defensive RPM entering Thursday. He leads the league in scoring, has $34 million coming next year from the Wizards . . . and has never made it past the second round of the playoffs, despite future Hall of Famer John Wall once playing beside him.

LaVine, who has never played in an NBA playoff game, is no Harden, and he’s no Beal.

He’s also currently ranked 113th of 113 in defensive RPM.

It’s simple: Either LaVine makes unprecedented improvements to his defense over the next few months to warrant a top salary, or he signs in the $25 million-per-year range so there’s flexibility to bring in the help a player like him needs. Otherwise, the Bulls have to move him.

Fair or unfair? It doesn’t matter.

“Winning sets the rules — I don’t.”

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