When a player is a restricted free agent, any team can send him an offer sheet for a new contract, and then his current team has the right to match said offer over the next two days. The trouble with restricted free agency though, is that in many cases, nobody gets what they want. Take the case of Zach Lavine. The Chicago Bulls wanted to keep Lavine, but would have ideally kept him for cheaper. The Sacramento Kings have cap space and were able to offer an exorbitant amount of money to a player that hasn’t proved much yet, but he was a guy they wanted. Lavine himself, agreeing to the offer sheet sent by the Kings right away, probably doesn’t want to be in Chicago. Essentially, all the Kings did was drive up the price for Lavine. They don’t get him, the Bulls had to pay more for him than they wanted to, and he’s stuck on a team he doesn’t want to be on.
This kind of game has been played before, and it’s why good teams are terrified of bad teams with plenty of cap space. According to Tom Zeller of SB Nation, “The Nets put out four offer sheets in two years over 2016 and 2017, landing none of the players (Tyler Johnson, Allen Crabbe, Donatas Motiejunas, and Otto Porter).” All that ended up doing was making teams shell out more cash to keep guys they wouldn’t necessarily have paid max contracts to. The Lavine deal seems to have followed the same script, but is he worth $78 million over four years?
Lavine has been in the league for four years, but has only played a total of 71 games over the past two seasons. Everyone knows that he can rise above the rim and produce highlight plays with the best of them, but his number and his production don’t point to making almost $20 million a year. To put in in perspective, Paul George, Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson, and Kawhi Leonard are all making around or less than what Lavine would average over the next four years. He managed almost 19 points per game in his last year in Minnesota, but he doesn’t offer much outside of scoring.
The Chicago Bulls must see Lavine as a crucial part to their rebuild, so they reluctantly threw the big money at him, but the Bulls have a long way to go. They finished 13th in the Eastern conference this past season, and the core of their team is very young. Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. may end up being one of the most dynamic front court combos in the league, but they still need a couple years to develop. Zach Lavine could end up being “their guy” and the next All Star out of Chicago. The talent he’s flashed up until now in his career shows as much, but injury has gotten in the way of him taking a leap forward.