Bulls Insider

Will Zach LaVine finish this season with the Bulls?

Team's biggest asset remains the subject of speculation

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Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich

Zach LaVine's future with the Chicago Bulls has been the source of consistent speculation, from the time he signed an offer sheet with the Sacramento Kings in 2018 restricted free agency that the Bulls matched to even after he signed a maximum five-year, $215 million deal in 2022.

So on the one hand, not much changed on Tuesday when The Athletic first reported---and NBC Sports Chicago confirmed---that the trade market will be explored yet again for LaVine.

But on the other hand, one significant wrinkle did change: For the first time ever, LaVine could be open to a change of scenery, sources said.

That's not to say LaVine won't remain professional and committed to trying to right this sluggish start to the season, both for him and the Bulls. After all, the team committed maximum dollars to him. But LaVine, who has been extremely loyal to the Bulls and served as the face of the franchise during a difficult rebuilding process, could be open to exploring the right situation if it presents.

Multiple things are important to remember here:

---Just because a player is open to change doesn't mean the Bulls will make a bad deal or move him just to move him. After all, management began this season fully committed to returning to the playoffs with this group.

---The trade market opens far more widely come Dec. 15, when players who signed deals during the offseason are eligible to be traded.

---Playing winning basketball between now and the Feb. 8 trade deadline could change this story. A 4-7 start, during which LaVine is shooting well below his career percentage, is testing everybody's patience.

---The Bulls held exploratory trade talks centered on LaVine last offseason. Their asking price remained consistently high. The unanswerable question for now is: Does that asking price drop in light of the Bulls' struggles?

LaVine was loosely tied to Damian Lillard and James Harden, two players who have moved on to the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Clippers, respectively. As LaVine himself put it during a conversation with NBC Sports Bay Area’s Monte Poole over the offseason as LaVine prepared to play in the American Century Championship golf pro-am, he always seems to land in rumors.

“It is always rumors,” LaVine told Poole. “But I heard this: Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Every once in awhile, you see a little too much smoke.”

Even with the 76ers finally trading Harden to the Clippers, there’s more smoke now. The package Philadelphia received, flush with draft capital that includes two first-round picks, two second-round picks and a pick swap, is the type of assets routed to acquire another star.

And according to Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix, LaVine and Toronto Raptors defensive ace OG Anunoby are two of the “names to watch.”

It’s all speculation for now. The Bulls play their 12th game of the season on Wednesday night at home. And most teams are still in the feel-it-out stage of their season. The time to separate contenders from pretenders is well down the road.

And the Philadelphia Inquirer's Keith Pompey indicated the 76ers are seeking two-way players and could preserve their assets for next summer, when they also project to have significant salary cap space.

As recently as last month in Detroit, LaVine fielded questions in the postgame locker room about the future of the Bulls’ Big Three following a dispiriting loss to the Pistons.

“From Day One, I’ve said it’s time to put pen to paper. It’s our third year here together. We know how this business is,” LaVine said then. “We all love each other. DeMar (DeRozan) is one of my best friends. We talk all the time. But we have to figure out how to make this thing work.

“We’ve been here for long enough. Shoot, Vooch (Nikola Vucevic) has been traded. I’ve been traded. DeMar has been traded. We understand the business.”

Executive vice president Artūras Karnišovas re-signed Vucevic, Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu this past offseason and augmented his core by the free-agent additions of Jevon Carter and Torrey Craig. These are the moves of a franchise aiming for postseason relevance, not retooling.

Especially because Karnišovas said publicly the team is having extension discussions with DeRozan, who's on an expiring contract. Those talks have led nowhere for now.

But what happens if the Bulls’ season continues to head south? The players themselves have talked about how changes are likely.

And NBC Sports Chicago explored the consistent speculation surrounding LaVine as far back as July in this piece linked here. Two details haven't changed: LaVine still remembers Billy Donovan's high-profile benching of him. And some members of the organization fluctuate in their belief in LaVine’s consistency as a lead option on a championship-contending team, questions that only intensified following LaVine’s up-and-down performances in the play-in games.

Win games, shoot better and perhaps this story goes away. But it seemingly never does.

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