Zach LaVine’s market price finally was set. Just not by the Bulls.
The Kings signed LaVine, a restricted free agent, to a four-year, $78 million offer sheet Friday, forcing the hand of Bulls vice president of basketball operations John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman.
A league source told the Sun-Times the Bulls have every intention to match the offer and keep LaVine in a Bulls uniform, but they have 48 hours to do so.
Slow-playing at its best. But considering the Bulls traded Jimmy Butler to land LaVine and jump-start their rebuild, this is all about keeping things going forward.
A source said the Bulls’ initial offer to LaVine was almost $8 million less than that of the Kings, but that was expected because of the tight market for restricted free agents and the team’s history.
LaVine expressed disappointment at the Bulls’ offer, telling the ESPN website The Undefeated: ‘‘I’m disappointed that I had to get an offer sheet from another team. But Sacramento stepped up and made a strong impression. It appears that Sacramento wants me more than Chicago.’’
That’s not likely, considering the Bulls traded Butler — one of the best two-way players in franchise history — to the Timberwolves for LaVine, Kris Dunn and the draft pick that turned into Lauri Markkanen on draft night in 2017.
This is about the way the Bulls are conducting their business since embarking on their rebuild. They slow-played the market on restricted free agent Nikola Mirotic last summer and ended up keeping him after he didn’t get a nibble from another team. All signs pointed to them doing the same with LaVine, especially with even fewer teams looking to foot that kind of bill right now.
Then again, the Kings aren’t all teams. They have been looking to play a more exciting style of basketball for some time, and nothing says exciting more than a two-time dunk champion in LaVine. The Kings have Bogdan Bogdanovic and Buddy Hield at shooting guard, but neither is close to the player the gravity-defying LaVine can become.
After the Kings landed Marvin Bagley III with the No. 2 overall pick in the draft last month, LaVine would help them pick up the pace on offense even more with his athleticism.
But the same argument can be made for the Bulls, who have been athletically challenged for a few seasons now. That’s why it’s all but certain they will step up and keep LaVine.
In coach Fred Hoiberg’s offense, LaVine is the kind of secondary ballhandler who can score and make plays for others.
The Bulls didn’t get a full taste of that last season because LaVine was coming back from surgery to repair the torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and was limited to 24 games. But he showed flashes of brilliance, such as a 35-point effort against the Timberwolves and a 27-point outing against the Kings — something that might have planted thoughts of the offer sheet in their head.
The Bulls knew all along LaVine would be a welcome commodity for someone. Now that they intend to keep him, the healing process can begin.