The Sacramento Kings just made July a little bit more interesting by offering electrifying young guard Zach LaVine a four-year, $80 million offer sheet, which he accepted on Friday, according to Yahoo!’s Shams Charania. LaVine is a restricted free agent, which means his original team — the Chicago Bulls — now have 48 hours to match the Kings’ offer. If they do not, Sacramento will have poached one of Chicago’s best young players.
LaVine played only 24 games after returning from a brutal torn ACL late last season and averaged 16.7 points on shooting percentages well below his career averages. But while many questioned whether 23-year-old guard would return from injury with the same athleticism that defined his success early on, LaVine showed he still had bounce — and a streaky three-point stroke — toward the end of the year.
Now, the Kings have taken a swing at one of the league’s more promising young players, and according to The Sacramento Bee’s Jason Jones, LaVine has met with Sacramento team doctors, who gave his knee the OK. LaVine told The Undefeated’s Marc Spears he was disappointed the Bulls never made him an offer, and that “it appears that Sacramento wants me more than Chicago.”
But that’s how restricted free agency works; other teams make competing offers that set a player’s value. Then the home team — in this case Chicago — determines whether the competing offer makes sense for them.
The ball is in the Bulls’ court. Should they match this four-year offer sheet, or let LaVine head out West?
The case for matching the offer
Did the Bulls trade Jimmy Butler for Kris Dunn and the pick that became Lauri Markkanen? Sure, Markkanen had a standout rookie season and has a ceiling that could be as high as Dirk Nowitzki. But LaVine was a key takeaway in the trade that sent an All-Star starter to the Timberwolves.
Chicago traded for LaVine knowing he was hurt, and when he returned in mid January, the Bulls became noticeably more fun to watch. He appeared to be playing himself back into game shape, and if he got to 100 percent, there was a feeling LaVine was a player Chicago could build with going forward.
Four years, $78 million is a big contract to match, but the Bulls would have eventually had to make a compelling offer. They shot themselves in the foot by not making that offer soon enough. You have to pay for talent in this league, and a healthy LaVine is a talent no doubt.
The case for letting him walk
A torn ACL is no joke, and even though LaVine looked comfortable playing when he returned midseason, his odds at re-injury — knock on wood — are much higher than a player who never suffered a major injury.
There’s also the cap implications of a long-term contract. LaVine’s offer sheet has a starting salary of $18.6 million, according to NBA cap guy Nate Duncan, with 5 percent annual raises that pay out $19.5 million in 2020, $20.5 million in 2021 and $21.5 million in 2022. That’s a lot of money to commit for a team that probably won’t be in the playoff hunt for at least another three years, and it eats a chunk of cap space Chicago could use to sign other free agents in future summers.
Kings offer sheet for LaVine would start at $18.6m assuming it has max 5% raises. Interesting dynamic, if Bulls match they lose ~$9m in space as his cap hold goes up to starting salary, dropping room from $24m to $15m. So they’ve got 2 days to use that space in a trade.
— Nate Duncan (@NateDuncanNBA) July 7, 2018
After all, it was this same Chicago front office that didn’t want to make Jimmy Butler the face of the franchise, and give him the contract that went along with that title. If they didn’t come to the table with a sizable offer on LaVine at the beginning of the summer, there’s no way they’re ready to give him that label, and a four-year, $78 million deal for a 23-year-old guard has face of the franchise scribbled all over it.
Another thing: A healthy LaVine makes the Bulls better, and even though the NBA changed the draft lottery format to ward off teams from tanking for better draft standing, it still doesn’t hurt Chicago to have another losing season. The 2019 NBA Draft class is projected to have some franchise-altering talent available at the top. Why would the Bulls want to hurt their chances at Zion Williamson, Cam Reddish or R.J. Barrett?
One thing’s for sure: This is a ballsy move by the Kings. They traded DeMarcus Cousins in a deal highlighted by Buddy Hield, Sacramento then struck gold in last year’s draft with De’Aaron Fox falling into their lap at No. 5. This summer, the Kings drafted Marvin Bagley No. 2 overall. Now, they’re trying to fold Zach LaVine into a mix that also includes Bogdan Bogdanovic, Justin Jackson, Willie Cauley-Stein and Skal Labissiere.
The saying goes, “scared money don’t make no money,” and the Kings don’t appear to be scared at all. Now the Bulls have 48 hours to answer the question: Are they scared to match LaVine’s offer sheet, or are they scared to let him walk for nothing?