Bulls keep Zach LaVine in Chicago with five-year, $215.2 million max contract

The Bulls and LaVine had a formal meeting Thursday — the first day teams could negotiate with free agents — and LaVine met with several other suitors.

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The Bulls and Zach LaVine reached a verbal agreement on a max contract that will pay LaVine $215.2 million over the next five years.

The Bulls and Zach LaVine reached a verbal agreement on a max contract that will pay LaVine $215.2 million over the next five years.

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

Guard Zach LaVine was never going to another team.

He made that clear publicly and behind the scenes, as did the Bulls’ front office time and time again, throughout the 2021-22 season.

That’s why it took less than 24 hours for the sides to reach a verbal agreement on a max contract that will pay LaVine $215.2 million over the next five years, with the final year being at LaVine’s option.

A source said that the Bulls and LaVine had a formal meeting Thursday — the first day teams could negotiate with free agents — and that LaVine also met with several other suitors. But the Bulls were always the front-runners in his mind, and LaVine had told his core teammates as much.

One source said LaVine was so adamant about re-signing with the Bulls going into the offseason that he initially didn’t even want to go through the formality of taking a meeting with them. He only wanted to hear what other organizations were offering.

Klutch Sports, however, wanted LaVine to get the full free-agent experience before making his intentions known. He did just that.

Bringing back LaVine showed just how serious the front office of Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley is about ‘‘continuity,’’ which was the buzzword throughout the exit and offseason interviews.

They thought that, when healthy, the Bulls were a top-tier team in the Eastern Conference and that this offseason was more about making tweaks around an existing core of LaVine, Nikola Vucevic, DeMar DeRozan, Lonzo Ball, Patrick Williams, Alex Caruso and Ayo Dosunmu.

The first piece of that came on draft night, when the Bulls selected defensive specialist Dalen Terry 18th overall. Then on the first day of free agency, they agreed to terms with veteran big man Andre Drummond on a two-year, $6.6 million deal. The Bulls also brought swingman Derrick Jones Jr. back on a deal similar to Drummond’s.

But this offseason was always about LaVine and making sure he was rewarded for doing things the right way by improving each season, playing through injuries and emerging as a team leader.

‘‘I understand the relationship that I have with Arturas and everybody here,’’ LaVine said in his exit interview in April. ‘‘I’ve been here for the last five years, and I’ve really enjoyed my time. . . . I hope everybody understands how much I care about the Bulls and what I’ve done for the city and things like that.’’

So now what?

Bringing in Drummond will help in terms of rebounding, one major issue the Bulls had this past season. But he isn’t the rim protector Karnisovas said he was seeking this summer and does very little in the pick-and-roll game defensively.

Then there’s his career 47.3% mark from the free-throw line, which screams that Drummond is all but unplayable in late-game situations.

Jones does offer some rim protection, especially for his size, but not against the top big men in the league.

The other red flag to come out of the second day of free agency was that veteran shooter Danilo Gallinari opted to join the Celtics, despite getting a similar offer from the Bulls. The front office might think they’re building a contender, but Gallinari’s decision said otherwise.

And with very little money left to spend and 14 players under contract, the bow basically can be put on the Bulls’ free-agent offseason.

The Sun-Times reported the Bulls did their due diligence in the Kevin Durant trade sweepstakes but don’t have what the Nets are looking for in return. Might that change? It’s unlikely. But as the last few days have shown, the NBA is as unpredictable as it gets.

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