Zach LaVine

Agent Rich Paul pushes back on Zach LaVine slander

With trade talks ongoing, Klutch Sports Group CEO is letting Bulls 'handle their business'

NBC Universal, Inc.

Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich

The entire NBA knows that the Chicago Bulls are shopping two-time All-Star guard Zach LaVine. It’s been a storyline for months, if not years.

And the longer it drags on, the potential for messiness increases. Fingers can get pointed. Accusations can get made. Leaks can target character.

It’s this dynamic that Rich Paul, LaVine’s agent and CEO Of Klutch Sports Group, wanted to emphatically address on Thursday.

“I want to make this clean and clear: This whole idea that Zach has been anything but professional in this situation is false. This guy has played hurt. He has represented the franchise with class. A lot has taken place during his time with the Bulls and he’s taken the high road every time,” Paul said by phone. “Does every player get frustrated at times? Yes. But Zach has been the ultimate professional and deserves better.

“The Bulls have business to do. And we’re letting them handle their business.”

That business has been on full display since July 2023. That’s when the Bulls held preliminary trade conversations centered on LaVine with the Portland Trail Blazers when they still employed Damian Lillard and the Phildelphia 76ers when they still employed James Harden. Other trade rumors involving LaVine surfaced then too.

Just two years ago, LaVine’s relationship with the Bulls was in full bloom. In July 2022, he signed a five-year, $215 million maximum contract, fresh off his second All-Star nod and first playoff appearance---and the Bulls’ first since 2017.

The future seemed limitless and, in LaVine’s mind, free of the distractions of trade rumors.

Instead, the Bulls endured two straight non-playoff seasons. And when LaVine and the Bulls endured a poor start to the 2023-24 season, The Athletic reported “there’s been increased openness” from both sides about exploring a trade.

While this did mark the first time that LaVine opened the door to a change of scenery, he never requested a trade. He was focused on overcoming his and the Bulls’ slow start to the season and trying to figure out and treat the pain in his right foot that ultimately required season-ending surgery.

“We went to them and said, ‘We understand the business of basketball. If we continue to play this way and you guys start looking to make changes, let’s work together,’” LaVine told NBC Sports Chicago midway through last season. “I never once said I want to be traded.”

LaVine returned from his first extended absence due to his foot injury to help the Bulls go 5-2 in January. But the pain in his foot continued. LaVine and his representation sought outside medical opinions, which is common practice in the NBA.

When LaVine opted for season-ending surgery, the Bulls’ official team statement read: “After seeking additional medical opinions, in consultation with the Chicago Bulls training and medical staff, guard Zach LaVine and Klutch Sports Group have elected surgery on LaVine’s right foot as the next step in his recovery process.”

This phrasing, along with rumors that the Detroit Pistons were interested in trading for LaVine, created a false narrative that LaVine opted for surgery over joining the rebuilding Pistons. Multiple league sources at that time indicated that the Pistons’ decision-makers were split on trading for LaVine and that the Bulls weren’t close on a deal.

Speaking to a small group of reporters in Los Angeles in March, LaVine addressed the narrative that he opted for surgery over a trade to the Pistons.

“You never want to have surgery. But I got to a conclusion, especially with what the doctor was telling me, that the pain level and this thing isn’t going to heal on its own,” LaVine said then. “It’s a bone that was floating around. It’s known as a non-union Jones fracture, which I was dealing with for awhile. And once the doctor---I’m glad I was able to find him---told me you need to get this done sooner than later, it was good to know.”

This marks the second time that LaVine has played through an injury. In 2021-22, he played on a knee injury that required an arthroscopic procedure---in a contract year---because the franchise was headed to its first playoff berth since 2017. At that time, he consistently said he felt confident that him playing at 80 percent could still help the team.

LaVine has taken plenty of arrows during his seven seasons with the Bulls, including professionally serving as the face of the franchise during a challenging rebuild from 2017-21. He has experienced many highs too, both personally and with teammates like Coby White, whom he championed as the NBA’s Most Improved Player throughout last season.

But this relationship has had the feel of being headed for a divorce for awhile now. And the longer he remains on the Bulls, the more that the potential for messiness increases.

“I think we have a great relationship with Zach, a great relationship with his representation in Rich Paul,” executive vice president of basketball operations Artūras Karnišovas said following the Bulls’ inactive February trade deadline. “I think we always work together, and I think his thoughts are always about the team. He’s trying to win. And he’s trying to win when he’s healthy.”

LaVine is healthy now. He beat the estimated return of four to six months from his foot surgery by weeks and is going about his typical offseason routine. Where he’s plying his trade next season remains to be seen.

By trading for Josh Giddey to play alongside White, the Bulls appear poised to start a backcourt for the future. The mutual understanding between Bulls management and LaVine’s representation that a change of scenery is best for all parties seems the prudent path.

The Bulls have presented upwards of 15 proposals to teams over the previous weeks. League sources indicated that the Kings and Warriors showed the most interest, although in the latter case, they’ve since made moves that likely signal another direction.

Interested teams will likely want an additional asset attached to take on LaVine’s three years and $138 million. The longer this situation takes to resolve, the less value the Bulls could receive in return.

With DeMar DeRozan’s situation unresolved as well, the Bulls have plenty on their plate. In an offseason that Karnišovas said is dedicated to change, LaVine’s future looms largest of all.

Click here to follow the Bulls Talk Podcast.

Contact Us