Sports

LaVine: Season ‘crucial’ for Bulls, his own future

Zach LaVine was excited by the Chicago Bulls‘ aggressive offseason but says this season is crucial in determining the direction for the team and himself as he enters the final season of his contract.

“At the end of the day it’s a business,” LaVine told ESPN on Thursday. “They did what was best for the team and I will continue to go out there and do what’s best for the team as well. This season going forward is going to be extremely crucial not just for me but for everybody. Winning would take care of everything.”

Before free agency began and while he was playing for Team USA in Tokyo, LaVine said he’d outplayed his contract and he “wanted his respect” in hopes of getting a contract extension this offseason. The Bulls, however, would’ve had to use significant cap space to boost LaVine’s $19.5 million salary this season in order to give him a deal that was in line with his market value after he made his first All-Star team last season.

The Bulls and LaVine did have extension discussions before free agency, sources said, but they did not find common ground. Instead Chicago executed sign-and-trade deals for Lonzo Ball and DeMar DeRozan and signed Alex Caruso as a free agent last month, spending nearly $200 million as they look to break a four-year playoff drought.

“It showed they’re all in to win and we’re transforming the team to be competitive,” said LaVine, who has never played in the playoffs in seven seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Bulls. “We have a whole new team … we’re going to hit the ground running. I was very happy with the offseason.”

LaVine’s profile is growing. Last season he averaged career highs in points (27.4), rebounds (5.0) and assists (4.9) and had his best shooting season as he neared the vaunted 50/40/90 zone as he shot 51% from the field, 42% from 3-point range and 85% at the line.

Thursday he filmed a commercial for CarMax, which will feature him in spots at the start of the NBA season next month. He won gold as a key member of the national team at the Olympics. And right now, he’s slated to be one of the marquee free agents on the market next season and will likely be a name discussed regularly in the coming months depending on whether the Bulls meet expectations.

“I can’t control any of those narratives, any of those thoughts or opinions,” LaVine said about what is sure to be a season of rumors. “What I can control is what I do on the court. That’s what I do best, I take care of business. I’ll come into camp ready to be a good teammate and be a better leader every day and help my team win. I think that shows my value and I’ll let my business part speak for itself when the time comes.”

After not getting a new contract, LaVine left his old agents and signed with Rich Paul of Klutch Sports after the Olympics. The move drew attention and speculation on LaVine’s plans, though Paul has a history of negotiating long-term extensions to stay with teams in addition to helping star players force their way out of places.

“For me It was more of a leadership part where I needed to go and align myself with a brand I really wanted to be with,” LaVine said of the move. “I just wanted to continue to grow my brand and Klutch aligned with me perfectly. I can’t account for what other people’s opinions might be. I made this decision for me and my family moving forward.”

LaVine emphasized he’s focused on the upcoming season. Since returning from Japan, he’s been working on building relationships with new teammates. He’s worked out with DeRozan and Ball both in Los Angeles and Chicago in recent weeks, looking to build some chemistry.

He’s expected to start alongside Ball in the backcourt and believes it will be a perfect fit.

“He’s one of the best passers in the game, one of the highest IQ players,” LaVine said of Ball. “He gets up and down the court fast. I don’t see how our games can’t mesh.”

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