Bulls guard Zach LaVine feeling no added pressure with new max contract
LaVine said Monday that the Bulls’ front office gave him everything he asked for and that his five-year, $215 million deal was a “compliment” to the hard work he has put in.
Bulls guard Zach LaVine didn’t need to take a formal meeting with another franchise.
When the free-agent period began, he and agent Rich Paul did their ‘‘due diligence’’ on the NBA landscape. But taking a formal meeting with the Trail Blazers or Pistons?
That’s not LaVine’s way of doing business.
‘‘I went into the offseason with an open mind,’’ LaVine, 27, said Monday in discussing the five-year, $215 million max contract he recently signed to stay with the Bulls. ‘‘Once I was able to meet with [Bulls general manager] Marc [Eversley] and AK [executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas] and they came to me with everything that I wanted, there was no other reason for me to go outside and look at any other teams.
‘‘I think that would have been, for me, disrespectful on my end because they gave me everything that I asked for.’’
So much for a tough negotiation.
Not that one was expected. The Bulls were transparent in their desire to bring LaVine back at whatever cost, and the Sun-Times reported LaVine had informed his core teammates he would be back.
Of course, that was contingent on the Bulls offering him a max contract.
‘‘Being able to come back as a cornerstone piece and allowing them to get some of my insights, some of my input in pretty much constructing the roster to help me and help us win was really big for me,’’ LaVine said. ‘‘Chicago is my home.’’
Playing under financial pressure never has been an obstacle for LaVine in the past, but there wasn’t a lot of weight on his shoulders with his last deal.
This is different. LaVine is going from making just less than $20 million per season to $37 million this upcoming season, more than $40 million in 2023-24, then $43 million in 2024-25 and $46 million in 2025-26. The final year of the deal — 2026-27 — is LaVine’s option at just less than $49 million.
With that max contract comes responsibility — ideally at both ends of the floor. LaVine knows that, but he wasn’t blinking.
‘‘I was striving for it when I was on my rookie deal,’’ LaVine said. ‘‘It’s just who I am and what goals and what things I want to reach and how much better can we get as a team. But there’s no added pressure. [The contract is] just a compliment for a lot of hard work and showing what kind of player I am.’’
LaVine is blessed with an ability to fall out of bed and score 25 points in an NBA game with little effort, but the knock on him always has been his defense.
For a max-contract player to work, especially at shooting guard, LaVine would have to continue being an elite scorer and solid playmaker, but he also would have to be the kind of defender he showed last summer with Team USA and into the first six weeks of the regular season. That’s when his left knee began to swell.
By the time the 2021-22 season ended in a first-round playoff loss to the Bucks, LaVine was back to being a liability defensively.
The good news was he quickly had a clean-up surgery on the knee, and no structural damage was found. That news only has gotten better.
‘‘Just had a run-of-the-mill knee scope,’’ LaVine said. ‘‘I feel way better. I’ve been rehabbing, working out, playing, lifting, doing all the good stuff — and boring stuff, too.’’