Trade Packages and Landing Spots for Chicago Bulls Star Zach LaVine
Trade rumors are almost a foregone conclusion in the modern NBA if a star appears to be ahead of the developmental timeline of the rest of his team.
Zach LaVine is the latest player to find himself in this cycle following a 2019-20 campaign in which he averaged 25.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 3.1 threes per game while shooting 38 percent from deep.
Those are All-Star-caliber numbers, but LaVine's Chicago Bulls went just 22-43. The 25-year-old guard seems ready to contribute to a better team, while the Bulls might be mired in mediocrity.
So, it should probably come as little surprise that the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets are both "monitoring LaVine's situation in Chicago," according to a Friday report by SNY's Ian Begley, who added:
"It's fair to say that the Bulls, who have a new team president in Arturas Karnisovas, have yet to find a long-term solution on the coaching sidelines nor have they been successful in surrounding LaVine with talent in recent years. If that instability continues, would LaVine look to leave Chicago when he hits free agency [in 2022]? If so, the Bulls would probably be open to trading him instead of losing him for nothing."
That logic is sound. And the buzz will grow louder if the Bulls are bad again next season.
But with relatively good health, Chicago could be in contention for an Eastern Conference playoff berth as early as 2021.
When LaVine shared the floor with Otto Porter Jr., who only appeared in 14 games, and the still-developing Wendell Carter Jr., the Bulls were plus-6.7 points per 100 possessions.
That sample size is likely too small for confident takeaways, but the number is at least encouraging. There's a decent chance Chicago will remain the best spot for LaVine.
If he decides it's not, though, here are some teams that make sense.
New York Knicks
Former agent Leon Rose is now running the Knicks, which has led to steady speculation of the team adding players connected to his former agency.
That list includes Chris Paul, according to ESPN's Frank Isola, as well Devin Booker and Donovan Mitchell, per Begley. The two shooting guards seem like long shots, however, given the nature of their contract situations in Phoenix and Utah, respectively. Booker's deal runs through 2024, while Mitchell will be a restricted free agent in 2021.
LaVine would not be a bad fallback at the 2.
He's only about a year older than Booker and Mitchell, and he has the best 2019-20 box plus/minus of the three players. At 6'6", he has a clear size advantage over Mitchell (6'1"), as well as a clear athleticism advantage over Booker.
If the Knicks are looking to make a splash, they could do a lot worse than LaVine.
They have a treasure trove of incoming draft picks from other trades, which is likely part of what Chicago would be looking for if it made LaVine available. New York also has some players with lottery pedigrees who may just need a change of scenery.
And thanks to the Knicks' 2020-21 team option for Bobby Portis ($15.8 million) and the partially guaranteed salaries of Taj Gibson ($9.5 million, $1 million guaranteed) and Wayne Ellington ($8 million, $1 million guaranteed), they may have enough salary-matching fodder for a blockbuster offseason that results in the acquisition of LaVine and another star (maybe even CP3?).
That probably wouldn't mean immediate title contention, but it would at least be a step toward progress. And the Knicks haven't taken many of those over the last two decades.
"Collectively, I feel like we have great pieces," Kyrie Irving said after a January loss. "But it's pretty glaring we need one more piece or two more pieces that will complement myself, [Kevin Durant], [DeAndre Jordan], [Garrett Temple], [Spencer Dinwiddie], Caris [LeVert], and we'll see how that evolves."
That verbal grenade set off plenty of speculation regarding the 2020-21 Nets roster. Who is the third star? Which Nets are expendable? What will it take to satisfy Kyrie?
Since then, Brooklyn has been linked to Bradley Beal, who is due $28.8 million next season, but that feels like as much of a long shot as the Knicks landing Booker or Mitchell.
LaVine may be a more attainable target, and he might even fit better.
His usage was slightly lower than Beal's this season, and he has plenty of experience with ball-dominant teammates. He shared the floor with Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns in Minnesota. With Kyrie and KD already in place, Brooklyn's third star probably isn't going to get a ton of scoring opportunities.
Dialing LaVine's field-goal attempts down from 20 per game to 15 or 16 might be easier than dialing Beal back from 22.9.
As far as the logistics, the Nets' cabinet of future draft assets isn't stocked quite as well as the Knicks', but they still have a bit there. And the roster features some players, including LeVert and Dinwiddie, who might intrigue a Chicago squad that would presumably be heading into a soft rebuild by trading LaVine.
Whether he has any desire to leave the Washington Wizards or not, Beal has been an almost constant fixture in the rumor mill over the last year or so. One of the teams he's often linked to is the Denver Nuggets.
The team has a perennial MVP candidate in Nikola Jokic and a budding star in Jamal Murray, so conventional wisdom suggests Denver is one player away from the latest Big Three.
But again, Beal seems like a "shoot for the moon" target for any team looking to supplement through the trade market. LaVine feels more realistic.
On the floor, Jokic and LaVine could make for a dynamic quarterback-receiver combination. LaVine's absurd athleticism in the cut-heavy offense of the Nuggets would lead to some monster finishes set up by Jokic. And when those lanes are prematurely shut down, LaVine would have the ability to step back for catch-and-shoot threes. Either way, Jokic—whose vision is as good as anyone's in the league—would find him.
And with Murray occupying the other side of the floor, it would be difficult for defenses to load up on the two-man game of Jokic and LaVine (and LaVine's presence would pull attention from Jokic and Murray).
Salary-matching in this scenario is easy. Gary Harris' $20.5 million salary for 2020-21 lines up almost perfectly with LaVine's $19.5 million. It would come down to how much sweetening the deal would need after that.
It seems highly unlikely Denver would move on from Michael Porter Jr. right now. Would a future first-round pick do the trick? Perhaps the addition of Bol Bol?
The Nuggets' aggression would likely depend on their level of confidence in re-signing LaVine. Technicalities aside, the idea of an offense with Jokic, Murray and LaVine is enticing.
Over the course of the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons, the Philadelphia 76ers were plus-14.4 points per 100 possessions when Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid shared the floor with JJ Redick, who is now with the New Orleans Pelicans.
This season, Philly is plus-2.0 points per 100 possessions when Embiid and Simmons play together.
The lack of an elite floor-spacer alongside those two stars has seriously cramped the offense's style. And while LaVine is not Redick when it comes to pure shooting, he would pull more defenders away from the paint than Al Horford has.
He's also a more dynamic perimeter scorer and creator than Tobias Harris and Josh Richardson. And if the Sixers set up the rotation correctly, he could enjoy a role similar to the one he has in Chicago when Simmons, Embiid or both were on the bench.
Constructing a deal to get LaVine to the Sixers requires a bit more contract-stacking than it would with Denver, but Philadelphia can still pull it off.
The deals of Josh Richardson ($10.9 million next season) and Mike Scott ($5 million) almost get the job done. Adding Zhaire Smith, Matisse Thybulle (probably the least likely option from Philadelphia's perspective) or a pick could push a trade over the finish line.
But again, this speculation depends on whether LaVine or the Bulls are even interested in a trade.