It was obvious before the season that the Chicago Bulls were not contenders, but nor were they tanking. Instead they were entering the year with an old, extremely expensive roster that felt a few bad losses away from a total fire sale. It took less than one month of action for the murmurings to start as Shams Charania reported on Tuesday that other teams are checking in on Zach LaVine's availability. Additionally, both LaVine and the Bulls are growing more open to that possibility.
The writing has been on the wall since last year when reports emerged that LaVine and the organization didn't "see eye-to-eye" barely halfway through the season. The Bulls ultimately did not move their star scorer and LaVine went on to have a perfectly fine season, averaging 24.8 points per game on 48 percent shooting from the floor. For a guy on a $215 million contract, though, that's not good enough, and the Bulls paid him almost $40 million to go 40-42. Not great.
Now LaVine appears to be hitting the trade market. He is who he is at this point -- a good three-level scorer capable of the occasional explosion who doesn't try very hard on defense and is definitely overpaid. But guys who can rack up buckets are valuable no matter what. There will be a few teams interested in landing LaVine, even if he has two seasons left on that monster $215 million deal, with a player option in the last year.
Most teams are still figuring out what they look like after three weeks of play but it's quickly become obvious that a few squads with championship hopes are in dire need of a player like LaVine. Here are a few possible landing spots for the All-Star guard.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers would love to somehow get their old pal Alex Caruso back instead of LaVine, but Caruso is infinitely more valuable in regards to his skillset and contract and thus far more difficult to attain. LaVine could be an acceptable alternative. It's obvious Los Angeles badly needs somebody who can consistently take on the burden offensively so that LeBron James doesn't fall apart by the postseason and they don't collapse when he's on the bench. The Lakers couldn't make a move until December, when the players they signed over the offseason become eligible to be traded, but D'Angelo Russell's $17 million salary and Taurean Prince's $7 million make for a great starting point, especially if LA is willing to toss in their next unprotected first-rounder in 2029.
It does feel like this would move the Lakers a bit backward. They got to the Western Conference Finals last season by surrounding LeBron and Anthony Davis with guys who knew their roles and played hard, which is why they re-signed most of those guys this offseason to run it back. But while that's a competitive team a lot needs to break right for that to be a championship team. If the deadline creeps closer and the Lakers are struggling to stay above .500 due to age or injury, this is a move worth keeping an eye on.
The widely-held assumption over the last few months was that the Sixers needed somebody to replace James Harden and would hunt for such a player after he was gone, since it was unlikely they'd get that player back in the original Harden trade. That proved to be true as Harden was shipped out for picks and role players. But it is no longer clear that Philly needs another high-scoring guard because Tyrese Maxey has been outstanding. The third-year Kentucky product has been so good, in fact, that many are wondering if the Sixers shouldn't just move forward with him and Joel Embiid this season, see what happens, then load up in the offseason since they'll be able to create max cap space.
That is probably what they'll end up doing. But if Maxey goes down or things look less shiny once injuries and attrition set in closer to the trade deadline, LaVine makes sense as a target. They can match his salary by cobbling together the same contracts they got for Harden or finally get off Tobias Harris' deal. They'd have to load up on picks in the trade package since they have no enticing young players to speak of other than Maxey, but if they can pull it off Philly would boast a tremendous offense and a core to build around going forward.
San Antonio Spurs
Yep. It's time. Victor Wembanyama is already good enough to start wondering when the Spurs are going to get him a high-end running mate. Right now the franchise is content to see what happens and not rock the boat too much so that Wemby develops on a good timeline and they'll have homegrown pieces to surround him with as the cap rules change in the next few years. But their franchise cornerstone has already proven that they have to at least think about these moves starting now. And LaVine seems like the sort of player to really thrive next to Wemby-- a scorer who can get his own buckets while still playing well off the big center and all of his plentiful his defensive mistakes will be covered by the literal condor roaming the paint behind him.
San Antonio could put together a relatively competitive trade package, too. They have all their own picks going forward along with a few extra goodies, like the 2028 top-one protected pick from the Celtics. They can put together Doug McDermott, Cedi Osman, and Devontae Graham to make the money work. It's very unlikely the Spurs do this unless they really think Wemby can be a championship centerpiece as a rookie, but it's certainly worth thinking about if the Bulls will accept filler and picks. Because the kid is going to be ready sooner rather than later, and all great big men need a 20ppg scorer around them to win in the modern era.