Bulls guard Zach LaVine feeling no added pressure with new max contract

Zach LaVine didn’t need to take a formal sit-down with another franchise.

When the free agent period began for the Bulls guard late last month, he and his agent Rich Paul admittedly did their “due diligence” on the landscape, but a formal sit-down with Portland or Detroit?

Not LaVine’s way of doing business.

“I went into the offseason with an open mind,” LaVine explained on Monday, when discussing his recently signed five-year, $215 million max contract. “Once I was able to meet with [Bulls general manager] Marc [Eversley] and [executive vice president of basketball operations] AK [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 ever expected. The Bulls were very transparent in their desire to bring LaVine back at whatever cost, and as the Sun-Times reported, LaVine had informed his core Bulls teammates that he would be back.

Of course, contingent on a max deal truly being offered.

“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.”

One that he can now afford even higher real estate in.

Playing under financial pressure has never been an obstacle for LaVine in the past, but then again there wasn’t a lot of weight on his shoulders under his last deal.

Arguably, LaVine out-played his contract in three of the last four years after he signed it, and as far as he was concerned, the day he signed it.

This is different.

LaVine is going from making just under $20 million per season to jumping up to $37 million this upcoming season, over $40 million in the 2023-24 season, and then $43 million and $46 million. The final year of the deal is LaVine’s option at just under $49 million when he will be 31 years old.

With that max contract comes responsibility, and ideally responsibility on both ends of the floor. LaVine knows that, but 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 with and how much better can we get as a team. But there’s no added pressure, it’s just a compliment of a lot of hard work and showing what kind of player I am.”

LaVine was blessed with an ability to fall out of bed and be able to score 25 in an NBA game with little effort given, but the knock has always been his defense.

For a max contract player to work, especially a shooting guard, LaVine would not only have to continue being that elite scorer and solid play-maker, but would have to be the defender that he showed last summer with Team USA and then into the first six weeks of the regular season, before his left knee began to swell up on him.

By the time the 2021-22 campaign came to an end in a first-round loss to Milwaukee, LaVine was back to a very familiar role of being a liability on the defensive end.

The good news was he quickly had a clean-up surgery on the knee, and no structural damage was found. That news has only 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.”

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