If Zach LaVine was going to tone down his contract demands, well, he had a funny way of showing it Monday.
At the start of the season, LaVine was making it known that he would be looking for a max deal when the time came.
A few weeks ago, however, a source indicated that all the losing after seven seasons was wearing on LaVine, and he was willing to acquiesce to a slight discount to afford role players in his quest to finally play in the postseason.
In his end-of-the-season presser, however, LaVine didn’t sound as if he was willing to sacrifice much in the financial department, even if it meant leaving the front office with some loose change to bolster the roster and reach the playoffs.
“It’s a thin line between that,’’ LaVine said. “I let all that stuff handle out when it’s done. I try to let my performance on the court dictate what I get paid. I think that’s what everybody wants: to get paid what they’re worth. When my time comes, I definitely will get that. I think with different situations, different people taking less money or taking the max, it’s a business at the end of the day. I definitely want what I deserve, and whatever that is, I’ll have it coming to me.’’
Here’s where it gets interesting, however.
LaVine, who has one year left on his deal, can negotiate a max contract this summer and get a healthy raise over the $19.5 million he will make next season, reaching $23.4 million in the 2022-23 season, $25 million in 2023-24, $27 million in 2024-25 and $29 million in the last season.
That would give him the max but also leave the Bulls in a comfortable spot. But if he says no deal on a contract this summer, finishes off next season, then hits the unrestricted free-agent market, the Bulls could use his Bird rights to pay him the max, but they would be looking at an average salary of close to $39 million per year through the 2025-26 season.
For an elite offensive player who still has a long way to go defensively, that move could put the new regime in a tough spot.
The going rate for elite scorers might be that max money, but none of those elite scorers at shooting guard has carried a team to an NBA title in the last few decades without being a willing defender.
“It’s something we’re going to have to talk about going forward,’’ LaVine said. “Obviously with the [Nikola Vucevic] trade, it made us a lot better. And I loved it.
‘‘I love it here in Chicago. And I think everybody understands the business of basketball and anything can happen, trades like that, but for me personally, I let that stuff handle when it comes by.’’
Executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas seemed to take a similar patient approach in talking contract with LaVine.
“Well, everything is going to go day by day,’’ Karnisovas said. “Obviously, we’re looking forward to talking to Zach in the future. I think looking at his numbers and how well he played this year, he improved [in many ways].
“Again, we sat down with Zach [in the exit meeting] and talked about this summer because we’re going to ask players to do more. Because obviously the results are telling us it’s not good enough. And he’s looking forward to the challenge. So we had those conversations.’’