Do Bulls have any hope of trading LaVine?

This topic won't be remembered as one of the great sports mysteries, but it might be worth some further explanation.

The question is this: Why are the Bulls having such a hard time trading Zach LaVine?

He's a two-time all-star who averaged 27.4 points on 51% shooting just four years ago and should be heading into his prime at age 28.

For whatever reason, the relationship between the Bulls and LaVine turned sour two years after he signed a $215-million maximum contract. So that's one issue. LaVine is owed $43 million this season and has $138 million remaining for the next three years.

Players with bad contracts get traded all the time in the NBA. The Bulls could probably send LaVine to Phoenix tomorrow for Bradley Beal, whose three remaining years at $50/54/57 million are much worse than LaVine's $43/46/49 million. That's why the Bulls won't do it, because they'd end up in worse shape than they already are.

The NBA's latest collective bargaining agreement tweaked the luxury tax rules to enhance the penalties for teams that go well beyond the salary cap. That's the “second apron” that's often mentioned in NBA circles.

The biggest problem, though, is last season was such a glaring negative for LaVine, it's hard to see him making sense for any team, especially attached to that hefty contract. It’s possible the Bulls won’t find a trade partner, even if he comes back and proves he’s healthy.

Bulls fans will surely recall the team was awful at the start of last season, starting 5-14. The play only got worse after a mid-November rumor emerged that LaVine and agent Rich Paul were looking for a new home. On the court, the Bulls looked miserable and disinterested.

Of course, the team started winning the very day LaVine left the lineup with an injury. Coby White blossomed in a bigger role and the Bulls went 10-7 over the next 17. LaVine returned for seven games, then had season-ending foot surgery.

The way last season played out basically sent a “buyer beware” emergency alert across the league. LaVine has no history of leading a team to the playoffs, so a team with cap space like Detroit is going to think twice about bringing him in.

Players that have forced multiple trades over the years, like Kyrie Irving and James Harden, have generally made their new teams better. This part isn't all LaVine's fault. He was drafted by a bad Minnesota team, then traded to the Bulls, who spent a few years trying to lose. He didn't have any sort of veteran role model in the NBA until DeMar DeRozan arrived.

At the same time, LaVine doesn't make enough winning plays, especially late in games. How often have you seen him make a great defensive play, grab an important offensive rebound, take a charge? The willingness to take on contact and get to the foul line has been a persistent issue.

Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine (8) during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the San Antonio Spurs in San Antonio, Saturday, Jan. 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Eric Gay) AP

Everything listed in the last paragraph was also why the Bulls shouldn't have offered LaVine a max deal in the first place. They could have negotiated a shorter-term deal, offered to look for a trade or simply let him walk away in 2022 and be in better shape than they are today.

Billy Donovan hasn't matched his college success in the NBA, but he's well-respected and doesn't have a history of clashing with players. The Bulls, though, have sent out a few pointed news releases over the years, like in February when they announced “LaVine and Klutch Sports Group have elected surgery.”

Saturday's buzz had DeRozan agreeing to a sign-and-trade deal sending him to Sacramento. An ESPN report had the Bulls getting 6-6 guard Chris Duarte, two second-round picks and cash in return. San Antonio is also involved, getting Harrison Barnes from the Kings.

When last season ended, there seemed to be momentum toward DeRozan re-signing with the Bulls, but there was no way to offer a fair salary without going over the luxury tax threshold.

So the Bulls launched another rebuild, knowing they'd have a hard time trading LaVine and center Nikola Vucevic. What the roster looks like when training camp begins is anyone's guess, but it's likely to be far from ideal.

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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