NBA Free Agents: Bulls’ Zach LaVine a potential Trail Blazers target

Zach LaVine has been a prominent topic of NBA-wide conversation since the end of the Chicago Bulls’ season.

In his end-of-season press conference with reporters in April, the All-Star guard invited speculation about his future with the team by stressing that he planned to approach his impending unrestricted free agency with open eyes.

Teams across the league took notice.

As recently as the NBA Draft Combine, NBC Sports Chicago Bulls Insider KC Johnson reported that the Trail Blazers, Lakers, Mavericks and Hawks had all been linked to LaVine in leaguewide gossip.

Rumors continue to swirl around Portland, in particular. The Trail Blazers represent an intriguing suitor because of their proximity to LaVine’s hometown of Seattle, the potential allure of playing with Damian Lillard, and the franchise’s ability to open up max cap space this offseason with a series of cost-cutting moves.

LaVine, who underwent arthroscopic knee surgery on May 24, made it clear in his aforementioned end-of-season presser that he will take his time to make his decision. The Bulls are fully expecting LaVine to take visits, be wined and dined and explore the unrestricted free agency he has earned.

Still, both Bulls president/chief operating officer Michael Reinsdorf and executive vice president Artūras Karnišovas have publicly stated their desire for LaVine to remain in Chicago long-term. Reinsdorf told NBC Sports Chicago that the franchise is willing to enter luxury tax territory for just the second time in its history to retain this core and compete for championships.

LaVine has also made clear the importance to him of receiving a max contract. Karnišovas said in late April that he didn’t think LaVine’s procedure, which, at that time, wasn’t certain or scheduled, would factor into negotiations. The Bulls have the ability to offer LaVine, at most, a five-year contract with $212 million. That’s one year longer, and $55 million more in total value, than any other team can offer.

What could also work in the Bulls’ favor is the fact the franchise, with LaVine’s input, aggressively worked as an over-the-cap team last offseason to add DeMar DeRozan and Lonzo Ball via sign-and-trade acquisitions and Alex Caruso with the mid-level exception.

LaVine acknowledged those moves as “huge” in his late April media session with reporters.

“It just shows that they (the Bulls front office) were ready to win. Obviously my first couple of years here it was tough to have that feeling. This year has been incredible,” he said. “You’ve got to take everything into consideration. And obviously the team we have here is something you’ve got to consider, how good that we were this last year and moving forward.”

So stay tuned, Bulls fans. LaVine’s status figures to take center stage in the coming weeks.

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