UPDATE: The Bulls had 48 hours to match the Kings’ near-$80 million offer sheet to Zach LaVine. They only needed two, as Chicago has reportedly decided that it will match before the deadline and keep LaVine, who will make $20 million each of the next four years. Matching lowers Chicago’s cap space from a possible $24 million to $15 million due to LaVine’s cap hold. The contract also reportedly has an injury clause that protects the Bulls against LaVine’s surgically repaired knee.
During a summer when the King changed course and made his way to Los Angeles, the good old reliable Sacramento Kings truly stayed, well, the Kings. Restricted free agent Zach LaVine reportedly agreed to a fully guaranteed four-year, nearly $80 million offer sheet from Sacramento on Friday afternoon. The Chicago Bulls, who traded for the then-Timberwolf on the night of the 2017 NBA draft, have 48 hours to match the deal and keep part of their return for Jimmy Butler, or let LaVine walk.
Given the speed at which unrestricted free agents have signed this summer, the market for restricted free agents had seemingly dried up by Friday. Only a handful of teams still hold substantial amounts of cap space, and most of them (such as the Hawks) aren’t trying to win now. So it was expected that most of the restricted free agents left on the market would have to take less money or shorter deals, or bet on themselves by taking a qualifying offer and testing the market again next summer when more teams will be set to have money to spend. But of course the Kings, as they’re wont to do, essentially made their way to the front of the free-agency line and said, “Hold my beer,” likely committing themselves to paying LaVine around $20 million a year for the next four years.
LaVine, the 13th overall pick in 2014, is still just 23 years old and has shown flashes of being a starter-level player. He averaged 16.7 points in 24 games last season after coming back from a torn ACL, and 18.9 points per game during 47 games in the 2016–17 season. But he’s still not worth anywhere near $80 million. Just last week, ESPN’s Nick Friedell reported that the Bulls’ preferred contract would be four years for $60 million — a far more reasonable number, but apparently a little too reasonable for the man with the final say:
— Zach LaVine (@ZachLaVine) July 1, 2018
The Kings’ offer sheet, which reportedly includes no options, is a bet on LaVine’s future much more than it is a sign of his current value. But LaVine has had plenty of health problems over his four seasons in the league (he’s played 82 games in a season only once), and he’s still an uncertain prospect. The athleticism is there — he is a two-time slam dunk contest champion — but the refinement isn’t, especially on defense. And on offense, there’s fear that what he’s shown is all he’s going to be: an empty-stats guy. Then again, LaVine is not at fault here — he’s just trying to get that money. The Kings’ team doctors reportedly met with LaVine this week and gave the front office the go-ahead to more or less break the bank for him, a fact that doesn’t seem to have gone unnoticed by LaVine:
“I’m disappointed that I had to get an offer sheet from another team,” LaVine told The Undefeated’s Marc J. Spears on Friday. “But Sacramento stepped up and made a strong impression. It appears that Sacramento wants me more than Chicago.”
The Bulls are seemingly in a tough spot, but the right decision is clear. Matching the offer sheet and paying LaVine almost $80 million would corrode their cap space for next summer — and beyond, in the event that they want to go free-agent hunting. Even if they’re focused on LaVine as the prized jewel from the Butler trade, the price tag isn’t worth keeping him. However, the Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson reported that early indications are the Bulls intend to match the offer sheet.
Meanwhile the Kings’ plan is unclear, which at this point seems to be the status quo. They have young pieces — like De’Aaron Fox, Harry Giles, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and this year’s no. 2 overall pick, Marvin Bagley III — that they could build a fun, young team around. But for some reason, they’ve developed a stubborn propensity for going after free agents. Last season it was Vince Carter, George Hill, and Zach Randolph. This offseason, they’ve gone younger and targeted LaVine, but given that he is no franchise savior and might steal minutes from a player like Bogdanovic, the move doesn’t feel any smarter.
The Kings may have opened up the restricted free agent market for business (Kyle Anderson reportedly agreed to sign a $37 million offer sheet with the Grizzlies within the hour!), but if they thought this was going to be a fortuitous ring of the bell, they were wrong. It’s just extremely on brand, and that’s not a good thing at all.