Bulls match Sacramento's offer to keep Zach LaVine

Zach's Back!

No, he really never went anywhere, and that's assuming Sacramento actually is somewhere.

But that's also the result of a week or so of uncertainty, and then perhaps misery and exultation, depending on whom you ask, with LaVine's Bulls 2018 cameo turning into one of the biggest free agent offers this summer. It was Sacramento's reported $78 million over four years for restricted free agent LaVine, who headlined the Jimmy Butler trade to the Minnesota Timberwolves just over a year ago.

The Bulls Sunday reclaimed LaVine by matching the offer, which is permitted under terms of being a restricted free agent. If LaVine had played out his fifth year option, he would have become an unrestricted free agent and been able to sign with any team without the matching clause.

The Bulls exercised it during the 72-hour window of opportunity. So LaVine will remain with the Bulls.

It likely was the only tact that was feasible for the Bulls even if some suggested it was better to allow LaVine to leave and the Bulls explore pursuing other free agents. The argument, which has some merit, is that LaVine is coming off the serious anterior cruciate ligament surgery from February 2017. LaVine returned to the Bulls last January from his rehabilitation. He played 24 games with uncertain results, averaging 16.7 points, but with career lows in shooting. His defense was shaky and he closed the season sitting out with knee tendinitis.

Given those circumstances, there was a question about whether the 23-year-old LaVine would get a contract offer. It came as somewhat of a surprise from the Kings, who have two other shooting guards in lottery pick Buddy Heild and Bogdan Bogdanovic. But LaVine also carries the appeal that drew the Bulls to him from the Butler trade. LaVine was a two-time NBA slam dunk champion, arguably the league's most athletic player, a 39 percent three-point shooter averaging close to 20 points when he was injured. He'd had a 40-point game with seven threes against the Kings a month before his injury. They clearly remembered.

But the Bulls haven't had much more success than the Kings lately, and there was no way, especially being a team lacking in great athletes, that they were going to allow LaVine to be abducted in that manner.

It was a curious attempt by the Kings to secure LaVine since published reports indicated the Bulls were offering LaVine close to the Kings final offer. The Kings threw in a front loaded item to pay each season almost in full early in the year. But they also did require security on a knee injury. It was much too close a margin for any team to seriously consider walking away from one of their top players.

The Bulls were said to offer $72 million over four years. It would seem ludicrous for a team not to match an offer so close to its own. Though the Kings are as mercurial and unpredictable an organization as there is in the NBA.

Though the principal issue remains that the Bulls do have high hopes for LaVine to return to the form he flashed in Minnesota.

With the great economic power of a large contract that makes him the highest paid player on the team, there presumably also comes great responsibility to be a leader by word and example, to not just accept but carry the defense and bring that unusual athletic ability to the fore. With the quick development pace of Lauri Markkanen from the same trade and the hopeful play of rookies Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison from this draft along with point guard Kris Dunn, the Bulls were now in position with LaVine to determine if they have a core of players to start challenging the league.

Allowing LaVine to be taken away without any compensation could have been a major setback.

Plus, there are no guarantees the Bulls could attract any other free agents of distinction no matter how much money they have under the salary cap. It hasn't been a strategy that's paid off in previous years. Or decades.

But there are other issues that required the team to match the offer.

A team cannot afford to lose a top young player for nothing even if the player may be an uncertain fit.

There are some who argue that LaVine as more an individual offensive threat doesn't work well enough with the style of play the Bulls hope to pursue and some teammates. But even if that were true, the Bulls could always trade LaVine. You don't give up a top prospect, even one coming off knee surgery, without obtaining something significant in return.

After all, if you could acquire an athletic player who shoots close to 40 percent on threes and is a dunk champion and former lottery pick still in his low 20s, wouldn't you hold out your money for that kind of player? Oh, Zach LaVine. Over the next four years, LaVine still could grow into a star.

If along the way he isn't, well, based on the Kings offer, there's still substantial interest in him around the NBA.

Also, a team never wants to signal to other teams they can come in and purloin its players. Your own players don't get comfortable if they believe they are easy targets for other teams. You don't want to allow that precedent to be established. Not exactly the kind of so called culture a team wants to create.

And this isn't your father's $78 million. The NBA's team salary cap is expected to be about $100 million next season with the luxury tax kicking in at about $123 million. That means if LaVine is making about $19 million, it's "only" about 15 percent of the salary cap/tax line. It's much less that the 30-35 percent maximums allowed. Now, of course, LaVine needs to show more than he has with the Bulls. But there's little reason to believe he won't considering his midseason return and some highlight games that included out dueling Butler down the stretch in a win over Minnesota.

That concluded a four-game run in early February for the 6-5 guard in which he averaged about 27 points. Before he went out for the season March 17, LaVine had scored at least 20 points in three of his previous five games. Considering the midseason return from major surgery, it was an impressive run.

So then what could he do not missing training camp and being with the same teammates all season? No one truly knows the fate of any player as fans in Chicago discovered with Derrick Rose. But when a team has a young, athletic player with star potential, the path to potential success is a contract agreement. The rules agreed to by the players allowed for players in LaVine's situation to test the market and then return to their team with their best offer.

It's a fairly common practice. The rest of us experience it, if we're fortunate, that is. Another company makes an offer. You go back to your boss and ask if they'll match. Often they do and you stay. That should make you happy. You get your money and reassurance that your employer values you. What more could someone want?

LaVine tested the market and the Bulls welcomed him back. That's the way the system is supposed to work. It did, and now the Bulls can begin expanding their system for the 2018-19 NBA season. Year 2 of the rebuild. It should go a lot more smoothly, in part, with Zach back.