After months of speculation, the Zach LaVine free agency saga has come to an end with him remaining in Chicago.
It's official! @ZachLaVine is staying in the Windy City 🔥
— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) July 8, 2018
So excited to continue my career with the Bulls! Can’t wait to get back on the court with my brothers in front of the greatest fans in the world!! I’m grateful to be able to call Chicago home. Now let’s get this going! #BullsNation
— Zach LaVine (@ZachLaVine) July 8, 2018
— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) July 9, 2018
The cost to keep him ended up being $19.5M a year over the next four seasons, which is roughly $2-3M more than they were reportedly hoping to spend.
It’s a steep price, but it could have been worse, and letting LaVine walk would’ve stripped the Bulls of one of their four best assets with nothing in return.
The positives of bringing him back?
- Still only 23
- He’s recovered smoothly from his knee injury
- His floor as an offensive player could very well be what he was in his last season with the Timberwolves, when he averaged 19ppg while shooting nearly 40% from 3, and had an eFG% 10 points higher than he did in his inaugural Bulls seasons.
- He’s shown flashes of being able to take over a game offensively:
The negatives? Kelly Scalleta of Bleacher Report summed them up pretty well.
— Bleacher Report NBA (@BR_NBA) July 9, 2018
Scalleta ranks the LaVine contract as the worst of the offseason, citing the young guard’s defense as the primary reason why.
Even if LaVine evolves into the playmaker and scorer they hope he can be (he averaged 18.9 points per game on 57.6 percent true shooting in 2016-17 before he tore his ACL), he still has major issues on the other end. His DRPM ranked 490th.
That isn’t just a statistic, either. The eye test backs it up. His inability to stay in front of ball-handlers is rivaled only by his failure to pay attention when he’s not the point of attack. Remember, these are problems even Tom Thibodeau couldn’t fix while LaVine was with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
It’s hard to argue with Scalleta here. There’s certainly enough time for LaVine to show improved effort on the defensive end, but at some point you are what you are, and he’s never been a good defender. He’ll have to become a 20+ a game scorer, and an efficient one at that, to cover up for the liability he is on the other end of the floor.
At the end of the day, the money the Bulls spent to retain LaVine has an “eh, it could’ve been worse” feel. He’s been a pretty average player thus far, and even if he evolves into a good-not-great player, is that type of production worth $78M? Will that money prevent the Bulls from adding someone better in the long run?
The situation that led to the Bulls paying LaVine what they paid him was a tricky one and they probably made the right call. Things could be worse. But, like most things regarding the Bulls, they could be a lot better.