June 15, 2023
Is it time to officially declare this the summer of the overpaid two-guard? After Bradley Beal became the biggest name on the NBA trade block on Wednesday, it took less than 24 hours for another Eastern Conference guard to slide into the rumor mill, which warrants a momentary focus on Zach LaVine.
Yahoo's Jake Fischer, who touched on much of the Beal detail we reported on here yesterday, had this to say regarding LaVine as the Bulls enter what should be a chaotic offseason:
Wishful executives will keep their eyes peeled on Portland and Damian Lillard, but it’s the Chicago Bulls who have started contacting teams, quietly gauging the trade interest in Zach LaVine, league sources told Yahoo Sports. It remains to be seen just how willing Chicago is to part ways with LaVine, or if it receives a commensurate offer for his services. LaVine has four seasons remaining on his five-year, $215 million contract, and multiple teams have indicated the Bulls are holding a steep valuation for LaVine — one that’s likely to exceed what Washington can ultimately net for Beal. [Yahoo]
Splitting hairs here, but Chicago's canvassing hasn't been all that quiet in my view. While the ultimate direction of the Bulls is unclear this summer — there have been rumors about them extending Nic Vucevic as these LaVine rumors pop up — the word of the week for them has been "active." Sources have said that Chicago's front office, which includes former Sixers exec Marc Eversley, has been busy asking around to see what sort of value they can get (or not get) for most of their roster as they ponder their next steps.
Working the phones and actually making deals are two separate ideas, but the Bulls are in a similar spot as the Wizards on paper. They are firmly in the NBA's no man's land, on the fringes of the playoffs with not much to speak of in terms of assets and upside. It has also been rare for the Bulls to openly consider a teardown and true rebuild, with ownership apparently content to have a decent team while hoping for a dream season to drop down from the heavens. Chicago has been somewhat unfortunate with injuries, with Lonzo Ball's ongoing knee issue robbing them of an impact rotation player, but it makes sense that they might take a look around and push the eject button.
Though LaVine is ostensibly their biggest name-brand player, at the very least in a co-starring situation with Demar DeRozan, he exists in the same player class as Beal: talented, miscast, and overpaid. Allocating over $40 million in cap space for LaVine in each of the next four seasons (the final is a player option) sounds like the sort of thing that will leave a team stuck in the age of the new CBA. And Chicago was already stuck prior to the future punishments high-paying teams are bracing for, so exploring deals for LaVine makes a bit of sense. The Bulls haven't won much of anything in a LaVine-centric world, and don't have an immediately obvious path to do so over that four-year period.
And now we get to the, "Yeah, but what does it mean for MY team?" portion of the article.
The question for all teams, and theoretically a team like the Sixers, is whether LaVine makes sense as a reclamation project you can get more out of in a more suitable role. He has been a consistent, high-efficiency scorer for a half-decade now, maintaining high volume and at least above-average marksmanship from outside while possessing some of the most explosive athleticism in the league. He has on and off-ball utility, with excellent catch-and-shoot numbers throughout his career to balance out his sometimes reckless confidence as a pull-up guy. You could see a world where he takes a slight step back in responsibility and becomes a much more impactful player toward winning by focusing on the things he's better at.
That suggestion, though, rides on the idea that LaVine would want or be willing to do so. In a Philadelphia-based context, it would appear to be hard to sell him on that idea — a swap along the lines of Tobias Harris for LaVine would come in a world where James Harden was leaving the Sixers, in which case LaVine would be by far the biggest name in the backcourt and (presumably) want the touches that come with it. He has real issues that would be amplified here in Philadelphia, namely that he is lost at sea on defense a lot of the time and slots in only as a secondary playmaker. Combining multiple half-creators into one full option isn't the sort of thing that tends to win basketball games.
LaVine's deal is a level below Beal's, and the absence of a no-trade clause and a big gap in AAV work in Chicago's favor. It's by no means a great contract, but that means stealing him for cheap would rest squarely on the Bulls wanting to shed long-term money, as otherwise they could simply keep him around and see what the future brings. On the Sixers' end, I think this type of big-swing move only really makes sense if they're getting a bargain basement price and holding onto Tyrese Maxey in the process. Even if they can't, I'm not exactly convinced that bringing on talented players on awful contracts is the way to right this ship.
Let it be said for perhaps the 25th time already this offseason — Philadelphia's ideal No. 1 offseason is bringing Harden back on a team-friendly contract, and that has been their focus. Until or unless that possibility is ruled out, all of these fantasy team type trades are just that, and this is just discussion fodder. And while it's worth keeping an eye on the Sixers in every major rumor because of the front office's history of hunting for stars, keep your expectations in check for what they'll do this offseason.
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