Bulls position breakdowns: Guard Zach LaVine is in Klutch time

Don’t think for a second that Zach LaVine has forgotten the 2018 offseason. The latest reminder of that came last month.

During his exit interview with the media, LaVine was asked about outperforming the four-year, $78 million deal he signed as a restricted free agent in 2018, specifically in the final three years of the deal.

”I thought it was four out of the four [years],” LaVine responded. ”I don’t know what four years you were looking at.”

When asked whether that ”discount” would play into him wanting a max deal now that he is an unrestricted free agent this time around, LaVine quickly said, ”I mean, you said that, I didn’t.”

Switching to the Klutch Sports Group, appearing in a Mountain Dew commercial that seemingly runs three times an hour, having two All-Star Game appearances and earning a gold medal with Team USA in the Olympics last summer scream ”max deal.”

Fortunately for the Bulls, they are in a position to give LaVine the biggest max deal. With LaVine not being named to the All-NBA teams announced Tuesday, the Bulls can offer him a five-year, $212.3 million deal; any other suitor can offer him a four-year, $157.4 million deal.

Is he still angry enough with the Bulls over his contract in 2018 that he would bypass the extra $55 million they can offer? Unlikely. But that doesn’t mean he’s going to turn down dinners and pleas from other franchises and players when free agency begins. LaVine wants to go through the wine-and-dine process, especially now that arthroscopic surgery on his left knee showed nothing unexpected.

That means the rumor mill already has started churning, with the Lakers, Hawks and Trail Blazers in the LaVine sweepstakes — with more teams likely on the way.

But here’s a buyer beware to all those teams, including the Bulls: There is a history here. Scoring guards who focus only on one end of the floor and receive max deals are a recipe for mediocrity in the NBA. If LaVine is the player he was with Team USA and the first six weeks of the regular season, he will be worth a max deal. If he’s not, he remains a third piece on a championship team who will be getting paid like the best player.

All indications from the offices of the Advocate Center are that the Bulls will offer him that max deal and take that leap of faith. It will be up to LaVine to decide whether the feeling is mutual or whether he rather would move on, leaving executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas possibly to go the sign-and-trade route.

That’s easier said than done, however, when you’re trying to get equal talent back.

Your move, Zach.

WHAT THE BULLS HAVE

LaVine, Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso, Ayo Dosunmu, Coby White, Matt Thomas.

WHO MIGHT BE ON THE MOVE

Thomas is an unrestricted free agent and likely will leave. All eyes, meanwhile, will be on White and what the Bulls decide to do with him. He’s up for an extension if they want to make that leap now, but they more likely will look to trade him for the right piece — namely, an outside shooter who is more consistent.

THE DRAFT

The first-round playoff loss to the Bucks was a reminder of how badly the Bulls need three-point shooting, especially off the bench. A healthy Ball (knee) will help, but don’t be shocked if the Bulls draft a versatile shooting guard — such as TyTy Washington Jr. or Malaki Branham — with the 18th pick, especially if the LaVine rumors build in momentum.

FREE AGENCY

The Bucks’ Pat Connaughton has a $5.7 million player option for next season, and all indications are that he’s staying put. That’s too bad because he would be the perfect fit for the Bulls’ bench. Limited resources will make adding a dynamic shooter in free agency difficult.

WILD CARD

If the Bulls get the sense that LaVine wants out, they will take a more defensive approach toward building the team and trade him to the 76ers for a package that includes Matisse Thybulle and Tobias Harris.

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