Zach LaVine

Latest Zach LaVine speculation underscores difficult Bulls' situation

Yahoo Sports reported team is gauging trade interest in the two-time All-Star guard

Zach LaVine is entering the second season of his five-year max contract.

Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich

Zach LaVine isn’t just a walking bucket. He’s a walking trade rumor; the future of the two-time All-Star has landed in speculation often and dating to the days of his restricted free agency.

The latest instance, courtesy of Yahoo Sports’ Jake Fischer, is that the Chicago Bulls are gauging interest in LaVine but “it remains to be seen just how willing Chicago is to part ways” with their most dynamic scorer.

Whether this merely is management performing due diligence---i.e., doing their jobs---or a significant philosophical shift remains to be seen. Speculation about LaVine’s immediate future isn’t new and reigned supreme at last month’s NBA Draft Combine. And there are a lot of boxes to check from the step of gauging interest to consummating a deal.

But the Bulls initiating the talks would be a new development. And it merely underscores their difficult and well documented standing in the league---good enough to compete for a lower-level playoff spot, not good enough to compete for championships.

It’s why management’s end-of-season messaging and desire to re-sign all of its own free agents got met with such skepticism. If the Bulls were to re-sign Nikola Vucevic, Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu, they’d be flirting with the luxury tax even before using salary cap exceptions to round out the roster.

Perhaps trading LaVine, who is due to make $40 million next season, and taking back less salary while recouping a young player and some future draft capital is one way to address this. A simpler, less dramatic way would be to choose between re-signing White or Dosunmu.

But any potential trade of LaVine would move beyond the financial and into the philosophical. One summer after signing him to a five-year, maximum contract, it would be a dramatic statement and attempt to re-tool on the fly.

LaVine is a cheaper and younger version of Bradley Beal, another max contract player who could enter the marketplace in an offseason that is widely expected to be volatile. If the Bulls do move him, their asking price will---and should be---high.

Focus on LaVine’s shortcomings all you want. He averaged 24.8 points with a true shooting percentage of .607 last season, which, given his slow start, some viewed as a “down” year. That kind of scoring efficiency isn’t easily replaceable.

The Bulls are in a tough spot, exacerbated by Lonzo Ball’s $20 million contract currently sitting as dead salary cap space on their ledgers. A trade of one of their “Big 3” core players long has been speculated as the most prudent way to try to get out of it, even if management painted a picture largely based on continuity in its season-ending news conference.

But Artūras Karnišovas also said this on that mid-April day, so stay tuned.

“My responsibility is to look at everything. At the end of the day, to be a .500 team is not good enough. It’s not good enough for this organization. It’s not good enough for the fan base. They deserve better, so I’m going to have to look at everything,” Karnišovas said on April 15. “How can I help this group to do better? We have to move forward. I’ll be open to anything."

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