Bulls camp questions: What's next for LaVine after max?


Throughout this week, NBC Sports Chicago will look at four of the biggest questions facing the Chicago Bulls as they begin training camp.

We have already explored the issues of Lonzo Ball’s health and Patrick Williams’ development

Next up: What is Zach LaVine’s next step after re-signing with the Bulls this offseason?

Even when he was one of the league’s most underpaid volume scorers toiling on 20-win Chicago Bulls teams, Zach LaVine’s MO was year-over-year improvement.

His scoring. His efficiency. His passing out of double-teams. His consistency.

Each year he added wrinkle after wrinkle to his game until he was one of the more explosive and versatile offensive players in the NBA. All without much national acclaim, given his team’s station. Yet all the while carrying a quiet confidence that portended what was to come.

Well, LaVine is no longer flying under anyone’s radar. He is now a two-time All-Star, one of the league’s most feared shot-creators, and the Bulls’ $200 million dollar man after re-signing with the team to a five-year maximum contract this offseason.

So, what’s next?

For a Bulls team riddled with ifs and qualifiers and contingency plans, LaVine is a refreshingly known commodity. He followed up a breakout 2020-21 season in which he averaged 27.4 points on 63.4 percent true shooting — thresholds only he and Steph Curry have ever reached — by posting 24.4 points per game on 60.5 percent true shooting in 2021-22, even as knee troubles hampered him for the final four months.

Those credentials rightfully earned him a maximum financial commitment and the commitment of resources — through trades, free-agent signings and the like — from the Bulls’ front office to create a winning environment for him to spearhead during his prime years. His development is the foundation around which the current iteration of the Bulls was built.

But that must only be the beginning.

Because with that max label and the weight of organizational relevance comes expectation. Expectation for LaVine to continue scoring, slashing and shooting with the prolificacy he has made the norm. But also expectation to raise his level defensively, continue developing as a playmaker and seize the leadership reins of a team looking to build on last season’s 46-36 regular-season record and first-round playoff exit.

“There's no extra added pressure,” LaVine told reporters after signing his max deal in July, exhibiting that quiet confidence again. “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.”

Those goals? On an individual level, LaVine said then he is striving for even higher ground: All-NBA selections, an MVP award. Team-wise, his desire to win a championship underscores all.

But for as far as he has ascended there are plenty of steps between where he is now and those aspirations. 

This Monday, reporters will get their first chance since the summer to gauge LaVine’s mentality. The knee injury that nagged him in the second half of last season has been resolved with offseason surgery. His ever-looming free agency was resolved in a manner that satisfied his desires. He is entering his third season under the same coach and his second with a core constructed to compete now. Heck, he is even a father as of late August.

And, still 27 years old, he is entering the prime of his NBA career. A time to continue improving, continue rising through the ranks of the league’s elite, and continue bringing his teammates with him by translating all of the above to winning basketball.

How he goes about doing so is as important to the Bulls’ retool plan as anything.

Click here to follow the Bulls Talk Podcast.

Contact Us