LaVine’s free agency rumors are a hot topic at Draft Combine; Lakers, Trail Blazers, Mavericks, Hawks in mix

The Chicago Bulls went all-in to create a team Zach LaVine would like to re-sign with in free agency, taking steps to bring Nikola Vucevic, DeMar DeRozan, Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso, among others. The Bulls’ new front office has built a playoff team.

All of this may not be enough.

LaVine’s free agency rumors were a hot topic at last week’s NBA Draft Combine in Chicago, with NBC Sports Chicago’s KC Johnson best summing up:

But this is certain: his return to the Bulls is no longer considered the slam dunk it once was.

LaVine opened the door after the season saying he was going to explore free agency (and having his knee in reach isn’t going to chill his market). Where could he land? Pretty much anywhere, according to Johnson.

What is certain is that league gossip throughout this week has linked LaVine to at least four teams — Lakers, Trail Blazers, Mavericks, Hawks — with almost certainly more to follow.

The Knicks have also been rumored.

Trail Blazers look to retool on the fly Damien Lillard and LaVine would adapt to that (but create defensive challenges). Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk has spoken openly about the need to improve the roster after a disappointing season. LaVine paired with Trae young would be an offensive force (again, defense not so much). Lakers’ need to upgrade quickly with aging james lebron is obvious (but no, the Bulls are not taking over Russell Westbrook in a sign and trade without a container ship full of sweeteners, and even then maybe not). The Mavericks are still playing but remain open to putting another star next door Luka Doncic.

LaVine is a star — a literal All-Star this season — who has averaged 24.4 points and 4.5 assists per game for the Bulls and is a powerful offensive engine. It would fit many places in addition to the four mentioned.

He also wants to get paid – LaVine said “it’s important to me” to get a maximum contract, which would be four years, $157 million from one of these teams. That means it will take a sign and trade for LaVine to get on one of those teams (and most others in the league, only a few rebuilding teams have max space). This is where it gets tricky. Atlanta has some interesting young players – De’Andre Hunter, John Collins – that could be part of a trade that works for both parties. Portland is not rich in business assets. The Lakers have a few first-round picks (from 2027) and Talen Horton Tucker but nothing else to do a job that would interest the Bulls.

Still, it was LaVar Ball – father of Bulls point guard Lonzo Ball – who said of LaVine on a podcast with David Kaplan: “He left.” When asked where Ball added: ‘They are going to like it in LA’

LaVine could be gone, or he could leverage all that talk into a max contract from the Bulls, who can offer five years, $212 million.

Most agents would recommend taking the big Bulls contract and, if he’s unhappy in Chicago, forcing his way out in a few years with that big bag of cash in hand. LaVine could do it (or he could stay in Chicago longer), but he’ll listen to everyone this summer.

Like the weather in Chicago, the LaVine rumors are just starting to heat up.

Jessica C. Bell