As Chicago Bulls star Zach LaVine entered his first summer as an unrestricted free agent, he kept his cards close to his vest.
The two-time All-Star point guard said he couldn’t commit to staying in Chicago and planned to take as many calls as possible to weigh the market as he hunted for a max contract.
But in the end, LaVine said he didn’t have a single meeting with another NBA team. Within the first 24 hours of the free agency window, LaVine had committed to a lucrative future — $215 million over five years — while chasing a title with the Bulls.
“My heart was in Chicago,” LaVine said during a Monday news conference.
LaVine said he approached free agency with an “open mind” and researched other teams before sitting down to dinner with Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations Artūras Karnišovas, general manager Marc Eversley and coach Billy Donovan. After building the list around him over the past two years, LaVine said the front office didn’t hesitate to grant all of his requests.
He described the dinner as a celebration and, he added, an opportunity for the front office to foot the bill for expensive wine.
“Once they came to me with everything I wanted, there was no other reason for me to go out and look at another team,” LaVine said. “I think that would have been quite disrespectful of me. They gave me everything I asked for.”
While other Eastern Conference teams made successful trades for new core players this offseason, the Bulls stuck to their plan to keep the same core unit from last season. They have only added five new faces to the roster: veterans Andre Drummond Y goran dragic and rookies Dalen Terry, Justin Lewis and Javon Freeman-Liberty.
Despite a quiet period of free agency, LaVine expressed his excitement about the Bulls’ additions. He described Terry as an “exciting and competitive” player and said he exchanged text messages with Dragić and Drummond, who hopes to train with LaVine in California later this summer.
LaVine said the Bulls believe they can improve the 2021-22 season with the same starting group.
“People will move every year, and there’s still a lot of movement that can happen during the off-season,” LaVine said. “It’s just teams trying to get better and better, and I think we’re trying to do the same too.
“You know, we added some additions, but… we wanted to run it again. I think that’s what (Karnišovas) and Marc wanted to pursue and really see what this whole and healthy team looked like. So I’m fine with that. I understood how good we were in the first half of the year, but we have two halves together.”
Despite making the playoffs for the first time and earning his second All-Star honor, LaVine’s 2021-22 season ended on a sour note as he battled a left knee injury, missed games and flew to California to receive a mid-season injection.
LaVine said he feels “much better” after undergoing arthroscopic surgery in May, describing the procedure as “normal.” He’s back in the weight room and on the court less than two months after surgery and expects to be at full throttle for training camp.
“I’ve been doing all the good stuff and all the boring stuff,” LaVine said. “You have to start slow like always, but I feel great.”
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Despite the importance of securing a top contract, the biggest news of LaVine’s offseason had nothing to do with basketball. Earlier this week he announced that he and his wife, Hunter, are expecting their first child.
LaVine flashed an unusually wide smile as he talked about becoming a father, citing his relationship with his father as an inspiration as he prepares for his family to expand.
“That’s bigger than basketball, bigger than everything,” LaVine said. “I am nervous, anxious, excited. … I know how to play basketball, but this is something I haven’t done yet.”
While LaVine feels the pressure of his impending new role off the court, he expects to feel the same next season on the court, even with a maximum contract.
When the Bulls return to Chicago for training camp in two months, LaVine said he’ll be excited to get back to work.
“There’s no extra pressure added,” he said. “This is how I am. (There are) goals and things that I want to achieve within how much better we can get as a team, but there is no added pressure.
“I think this is just a compliment to a lot of hard work and it shows what kind of player I am.”