It’s worth taking another moment to consider what an excellent 2020-21 season Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine put together.
LaVine finished seventh in the NBA in scoring, putting up 27.4 points per game with 5.0 rebounds and 4.9 assists. He transformed himself into a standard of efficiency, putting up career highs in shooting percentage (50.7%), 3-pointers (41.9%), 2-pointers (57.1%) and free throws (84.9%).
He had 25 games with at least 30 points and five games with at least 40. Although LaVine has his limitations defensively, he made strides on that end of the floor. For his efforts, he was named an All-Star for the first time in his career.
“A lot of people over the last three years thought, ‘OK Zach had a great year, this is what he is. Oh, Zach did it again, this is what he is,’” LaVine said. “I’m going to keep going. I have a lot more room to grow and I’m going to push my talents to the limit.”
In his seventh season, LaVine took a leap and played like a superstar. Now he has put himself in position to get paid like one.
LaVine will be entering the final year of his contract next season, which makes him eligible for an extension this summer. If the two sides cannot reach an agreement, LaVine could become an unrestricted free agent in 2022.
“I try to let my performance on the court dictate what I get,” LaVine said. “That’s what everybody wants, to get paid what they’re worth. When my time comes I definitely will get that. ... It’s a business at the end of the day. And whatever that is, I’ll have it coming to me.”
LaVine, 26, is set to receive $19.5 million next season, which makes him due for a substantial raise based on his production. He could negotiate an extension this winter, but the Bulls would have to clear cap space to offer him anything close to market value. They would also limit their ability to add to the roster to get LaVine more help.
Or the two sides could wait until next offseason when the Bulls would be able to re-sign him to an even larger contract.
“We’re looking forward to talking to Zach in the future,” Bulls vice president of basketball operations Artūras Karnišovas said. “He was a much better player this year. We sat down with Zach and talked about this summer because we’re going to ask players to do more. Obviously the results are telling us it’s not good enough. And he’s looking forward to the challenge.”
It’s possible LaVine’s ascension toward superstardom changed the timeline for the Bulls.
They made a bold trade at the deadline for Nikola Vučević, which also seemed like a commitment to getting LaVine some help. It didn’t work out this season — the Bulls finished 31-41 and missed the playoffs for the fourth year in a row since trading Jimmy Butler.
That trade might still be ill-advised, but the Bulls have at least stumbled into a replacement for Butler in LaVine, who can become a scoring machine when he gets hot. LaVine acknowledged his frustration with missing the playoffs again — he still has never reached the postseason in his career — but he also sounded committed to turning the Bulls into a winner.
The team finally started to invest in him on the court this season with their moves at the trade deadline. Now it’s time to see just how far they are willing to go.
“Obviously with the trade, it made us a lot better, and I loved it,” LaVine said. “I love it here in Chicago. And I think everybody understands the business of basketball and anything can happen, but I let that stuff handle when it comes by. I don’t think too far into the future about it. I don’t stress about it either.
“I try to let my game do the talking for me, but also try to worry about the things I haven’t accomplished yet, like winning. This year was great, but also frustrating at the same time.”
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