Zach LaVine knows what you’ve been saying. He’s got Twitter and Instagram, too. He knows you’re hatin’ on his defense, his choice of shots, his money; oh, so much of it with the reported $78 million/four-year contract offer from the Sacramento Kings which the Bulls Saturday matched to retain the restricted free agent. Zach says he’s gotten flack like that before. And flown through it without a scratch. He will again, he promises.
“People (are going) to put their own opinions on things, or everybody on social media, they try to judge you,” LaVine told reporters Sunday night in Las Vegas in his first comments since the contract with the Bulls became official. “I’m my hardest critic. There’s nothing that any of you (media) guys can say to me that I (don’t) take harder upon myself. I go back and critique my game every year. I’m used to people sleeping on me, and I’m also used to waking them up as well. I’m happy that I have this contract, and I’m happy that I have a little extra motivation to go out there and prove it to some people that don’t believe in me. At the end of the day, I believe in myself, I believe in my work, and I’m going to show the city of Chicago it’s a good choice and I’m here to stay. I’m going to be their guy, and I’m ready to do whatever to help this team get back to that (championship) spot.”
And so begins, yet again, the Zach LaVine saga, a year of tumult, turmoil and tentativeness as LaVine first eased back from anterior cruciate surgery after being acquired from the Minnesota Timberwolves in the Jimmy Butler trade. LaVine was hailed as the centerpiece of the trade, even coming off the surgery, after being a two-time slam dunk champion and rising star averaging 18.9 points with Minnesota’s Young Three.
“I’m happy that I have a little extra motivation to go out there and prove it to some people that don’t believe in me. At the end of the day, I believe in myself, I believe in my work, and I’m going to show the city of Chicago it’s a good choice and I’m here to stay.”
– Zach LaVine
Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn were included in the trade, and Markkanen, particularly, went on to have an all-rookie season. LaVine returned slowly in January, played 24 games with mostly limited minutes and inconsistent results, and then sat out most of the last month with tendinitis. Though the Bulls were juggling their lineup with lottery positioning in mind.
Then came the confusion and hesitation when the 23-year-old, 6-5 shooting guard signed an offer sheet with the Kings. Who already had two other shooting guards who shot even better than LaVine last season. What the heck was going on? LaVine was then quoted by ESPN to the effect that the Kings appeared to covet him more.
It had to introduce some concern, at least among fans, though the Bulls never seemed to waver about their commitment to LaVine. They reportedly offered LaVine a contract in negotiations that just about rivaled what LaVine accepted from the Kings. It would seem absurd to suggest the Bulls would not match. LaVine, curiously, said Sunday night he always believed the Bulls would match the offer sheet. Would the Bulls not have met him halfway? After all, LaVine’s initial requests supposedly were for considerably more money than the Kings’ offer. That’s all the salary cap room the Kings had, and there apparently were no other offers.
But LaVine wasn’t getting into specifics. He said he let his agents handle the bulk of the talks and believes both sides are satisfied and just moving forward.
“I’m happy, I’m in a really good place,” said LaVine. “I’m extremely excited and glad all the mayhem is over. I really didn’t have to deal with a lot of it; my agents dealt with it. I’m glad to be able to call Chicago home for a good amount of time.
“I think a lot of that got taken out of context,” LaVine added about the reported comments regarding Kings’ love. “The main thing that I wanted to bring my point across was I wanted to just deal with Chicago. I never wanted to get a point of [having to sign] an offer sheet. Regardless of whatever happened, I’m going to put that behind us. I’m happy as hell that I’m going to be able to play for the team that I want to play for. A lot of stuff with media, emotions, whatever it is, it can be taken out of context. I want to let them know that I never have any bad will toward Chicago. You guys were the first team to show interest in me from Minnesota, and I’m extremely happy to be back. I had a really strong feeling Chicago would have matched it. We had to get to a number we agreed upon.”
There was a somewhat unusual rider to the offer sheet. The Kings inserted language to protect against another knee injury, so the Bulls assumed some insurance that was not part of the original talks. LaVine, meeting with reporters before the Bulls Sunday night loss to the Lakers in the Thomas & Mack Center, said his knee is “100 percent stable,” but he understood the business decision to obtain security and agreed.
“If I were a business partner I would want to have that in place,” LaVine acknowledged. “I have no ill feelings toward that. I think it’s a good part of the contract.”
It was to be an unusual negotiation because LaVine was entering free agency with a new team, one he was only able to play 24 games for last season with career low shooting averages. And in a weak free agent market, especially for restricted free agents. But LaVine’s gambit paid off with the offer sheet from the Kings. Though there were no indications the Bulls intended to allow LaVine to become an unrestricted free agent and perhaps leave after next season.
LaVine attended both of the Bulls Summer League games this weekend in Las Vegas along with several teammates, including Bobby Portis, Denzel Valentine and Cameron Payne, and was set to leave Monday for Chicago to complete contract signings and physicals.
Now he hopes to fit with a young starting group that should soon include Dunn, Markkanen and rookies Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison.
“I know what I’m worth,” said LaVine. “I put a lot of hard work into this, came back last year, played in 24 games. I knew what my market was even in a dry market. I knew what I was going to be around, so I’m glad that we finally came to a conclusion and both sides are happy with that. You can’t be disappointed in the number at that level. I felt that was around the number that we had in mind. Obviously, both sides want the best of the deal. If you are a team, you want a team friendly deal. And if you are a player, you want a player friendly deal. But at the end you are going to be happy, regardless, especially with me. I treat people the way they want to be treated, I’m a very straight shooter. You know what you are going to get from me. I’m one extremely hard worker, I improve every year.
“With power comes responsibility,” added the spidery LaVine. “I feel I am able to take that on. I got my feet wet last year and got to know everybody and the organization and now I can take that step forward and go full throttle. We had a tough sequence when I came back. Kris got hurt; when Kris came back, Lauri was hurt. And then when we all got together we were dealing with some things in the organization. We didn’t get to play together. We’ll fit in fine, we have good chemistry together, we are all about the same age and we all have the same goals for each other and the team. If we work hard and put our minds together there is nothing we can’t accomplish. The way the East is now we have to be going for one of those (playoff) spots. We have to come in from Day 1 with that mindset; it starts Day 1.”
That’s the real trending LaVine says he is seeking.