What was once thought of as a certainty has hit muddier waters lately as reports have surfaced that it’s no longer a “home run” for Zach LaVine to re-sign with the Chicago Bulls.
Of course, the Bulls hold a major advantage here as the team with the ability to offer the explosive 2-guard the most money on his next contract, but LaVine is reportedly not thrilled with playing second fiddle to DeMar DeRozan in Chicago.
So although we – along with many others – still expect LaVine to re-sign with the Bulls, we are here to look at four other potential destinations for the former UCLA standout.
Los Angeles Lakers
The reasons why the Los Angeles Lakers would want LaVine are obvious.
He’s the top free agent on the market this summer, a huge factor for a proud franchise that loves to make big splashes, he’s represented by Klutch, the same agency as LeBron James and Anthony Davis and he’d provide a huge boost to a Lakers team that ranked 22nd league-wide in points per 100 possessions last season.
LaVine ranked in the 79th percentile in isolation scoring last season, producing 1.02 points per possession (PPP) on those opportunities while the Lakers were 13th in the same play type, proving what a need the club has for a one-on-one scorer like LaVine, who’d help take a lot of the offensive load off of James.
What’s more, LaVine has even recently discussed growing up as a Lakers fan (via TMZ):
Zach LaVine – who starred at UCLA before getting drafted #13 overall in 2014 – hit up Craig’s in West Hollywood with his wife, Hunter … and after chowing down on some grub, the cameras had to ask him about his future. The 2-time Slam Dunk champ initially played it cool … explaining his appearance shouldn’t be a big deal, considering he lives in L.A. When asked to give a message to Laker Nation, LaVine’s response is enough to give fans a glimmer of hope. “I’ve always been a big fan,” he said as he hopped in his Mercedes-Benz G-Wagon.
As far as how this might work financially, that part gets a bit more tricky.
Per our salary-cap expert Yossi Gozlan, the only real way for the Lakers to successfully sign-and-trade for Zach LaVine is if Russell Westbrook is included in the deal, or he is salary dumped beforehand.
This is because sign-and-trading for a free agency like LaVine would subject the Lakers to the $156 million hard cap, which the Lakers would need to stay below with at least 14 players. By replacing Westbrook’s $47.1 million amount with LaVine’s projected $36.6 million starting salary, they can still fill out the rest of the roster around him, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and the rest of the players currently under contract.
The only problem is that the Lakers would be limited to signing minimum players the rest of the way, meaning they’ll be looking at another season with 9-10 minimum players on the roster. It’s hard to see the Lakers being contenders with the majority of the roster being minimum players again.
Tricky but somewhat feasible.
The team with the most cap space this summer, the Detroit Pistons have just $76.8 million committed to player salaries next season, making them a plausible candidate to sign any top free agent, including LaVine.
After Jerami Grant – a trade candidate in his own right – the Pistons’ highest-paid player next season would be Marvin Bagley, with Detroit set to pay him $14.8 million in 2022-23. If a Grant trade does go down, that would open up even more money for Detroit to offer LaVine.
Here’s our own Yossi Gozlan again for how this can happen financially:
As far as basketball fit, LaVine would make a whole lot of sense as a backcourt running mate to Cade Cunningham, a great young playmaker in his own right. Cunningham is more of a creator than anyone LaVine played with in Chicago – the former No. 1 pick averaged 8.3 assists per 100 possessions while DeRozan averaged 6.7 last year – giving the duo a lot of synergistic potential.
LaVine’s three-level would also be a huge boost for a Pistons team that ranked third-to-last in points per 100 possessions last year at a paltry 105.6.
Any time you land an All-Star of LaVine’s caliber in free agency, it’s a cause for celebration, but when it’s one whose fit with his new team is as clean as in this potential scenario, that would be a true coup for the Pistons. Especially if they take him away from a division rival.
This is another potential fit that would be quite tricky financially, almost certainly requiring a sign-and-trade to come to fruition. But from purely a basketball perspective, it’s easy to see why LaVine would be a massive pickup for the Miami Heat.
Although Miami was able to fight its way to the Eastern Conference Finals for the second time in the three years of the Jimmy Butler era, the factor that has stopped the Heat from going further and hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy has been the team’s offense – or lack thereof – at the toughest stages.
Of the teams that made it out of the first round of the playoffs this year, the Heat ranked as the third-worst offense at 111.2 points per 100 possessions. Even in the regular season, Miami sat just 12th in offensive efficiency at 113.0 points per 100 possessions.
And although factors like a gimpy Kyle Lowry and Tyler Herro played huge roles in that, there’s no doubt the Heat need a top-level scorer if they want to win an NBA championship, something even Joel Embiid agrees with:
Miami needs another Star
— Joel “Troel” Embiid (@JoelEmbiid) May 26, 2022
That’s where a player like LaVine could come into effect.
To make such an acquisition, Gozlan says Lowry would need to be involved:
A sign-and-trade sending LaVine to Miami would very likely require Kyle Lowry to be included, because it will be nearly impossible to stay under the hard cap with him along with Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, and LaVine all on max contracts. A package of two-to-three first round picks, along with Lowry and Tyler Herro to match salaries would probably be the framework of such a deal. Although they would be hard capped in this scenario, they’d still have enough flexibility to keep Duncan Robinson and their minimum studs, use the taxpayer mid-level exception, give PJ Tucker a $1.1 million raise, and only sign an additional 3-4 more minimum players afterward.
Considering the Bulls’ need for a veteran point guard, especially with Lonzo Ball’s knee looking like an issue, maybe this move wouldn’t be totally far-fetched.
With Trae Young at the helm, it’s obvious the Atlanta Hawks are in win-now mode and hoping to take the next step towards becoming contenders.
And despite Young’s brilliance this season, it was very apparent in the playoffs how badly Atlanta needs to add a running mate for its All-NBA floor general, especially with how effective its current off-ball guards, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Kevin Huerter, looked coming off of the bench.
That’s where a player like LaVine might help, as his presence would prevent defensively-savvy teams like the Heat from forcing the ball out of Young’s hands with hard traps and well-timed double teams.
Want to force Young to pass the ball by sending a second defender at him? Cool, good luck doing that with an All-Star scorer of LaVine’s caliber on the floor alongside him – and with a four-on-three advantage offensively, to boot.
The days of Young being neutralized as emphatically as he was this past postseason would be over if Atlanta had a second option like LaVine on its roster.
To make it happen financially, Gozlan says:
Atlanta is quickly approaching the luxury tax with Trae Young now set to earn the same maximum contract LaVine is eligible for. They could put together an appealing package for LaVine that could include a combination of John Collins, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and Kevin Huerter to match salaries for him. They should be able to stay below the hard cap and field a competitive roster with LaVine, but it could put them over the luxury tax for the first time in a while.
A 1-2 of Young and LaVine sure would be fun to watch.