LaVine doesn't think massive new Bulls contract adds any pressure

Zach LaVine is staying busy these days rehabbing his knee, getting to know new teammates and awaiting the birth of his first child.

He took some time Monday to talk about his new Bulls contract, which makes him the highest-paid athlete in Chicago sports history - topping Michael Jordan's single-season mark.

When the season ended, LaVine said he planned to consider all options once he became a free agent. But it sounds like when the Bulls' management team of Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley put a full-maximum offer on the table, worth roughly $215 million over five years, the need to play the field diminished.

There weren't many NBA teams with cap space, anyway, and there were no believable rumors about LaVine heading anywhere else.

"Once I was able to meet with Marc and AK and they came to me with everything that I wanted, there was no other reason for me to go outside and look at any other teams," LaVine said Monday via Zoom call. "I think that would've been, for me, disrespectful on my end because they gave me everything that I asked for.

"Everything on the table that I looked at had Chicago as all the pros. So I did my due diligence on my own time as well and looked at things and made a decision for me and my family. But my heart was in Chicago."

One key to building on the improvement from last season is to be healthier. LaVine played through a painful left knee for much of the season and had arthroscopic surgery when the playoffs ended.

"I feel great," he said. "Just had a run-of-the-mill knee scope. Go in there, clean some stuff out. I feel way better. I've been rehabbing, working out, playing, lifting, doing all the good stuff and boring stuff too. ... I feel like I'm going to be even better."

Now an eight-year NBA veteran, LaVine, 27, has been an all-star the past two seasons. He averaged a career-best 27.4 points in 2020-21. Between the knee injury and arrival of DeMar DeRozan, who led the Bulls in scoring, LaVine's numbers dropped last year.

The Bulls are putting quite a bit of faith in LaVine. The contract will top out at close to $49 million in the 2026-27 season, for a player who has never won a playoff series or received an All-NBA vote. But LaVine is confident about his future.

"Individually, wanting to keep pushing myself to reach higher and higher things, if it isn't All-NBAs, if it isn't MVPs, team-wise it's win a championship," he said. "I think there's nothing above that.

"You've heard me say individual things come with winning and the better and better we get as a team and I keep pushing myself to get better as a player, I think those things can match up.

"There's no added pressure, it's just a compliment of a lot of hard work and showing what kind of player I am."

The Bulls appear to be done with offseason moves. Their roster will be largely the same, with Andre Drummond, Goran Dragic and rookie Dalen Terry replacing Tristan Thompson, Troy Brown Jr. and Matt Thomas.

"All the good teams and teams that make deep playoff runs each and every year know each other and have been together for a while, so I think (continuity) is definitely something you can establish," he said.

LaVine and wife Hunter are expecting their first child soon. So the new contract won't be the only blessing in his world.

"That's bigger than basketball, that's bigger than everything," he said. "Nervous, anxious, excited, all the same thing. I know how to play basketball. This is something I haven't done yet, so I'm looking forward to it."

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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