NBA free agents: Zach LaVine to return to Bulls on max contract

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Zach LaVine agrees to return to Bulls on max contract originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Zach LaVine said from the beginning of the 2022 offseason that he planned to approach his first ever unrestricted free agency with an open mind.

"I plan to enjoy free agency with what it is as a whole," LaVine told reporters at his end-of-season exit interview in late April. "I think you’re going to have to experience A-Z without making any fast decisions. I think that’s something that me and (agent) Rich (Paul) get to go through and experience.”

In the end, that process brought him back to the Chicago Bulls.

On the second day of free agency, LaVine agreed to a five-year, $215.2 million contract with the team, which represents the maximum years and monetary value for which he was eligible, NBC Sports Chicago confirmed Friday morning. The fifth year will be a player option.

That contract will begin with a first-year salary of roughly $37.1 million, a sizable raise from the $19.5 million he earned annually on his previous contract, a four-year, $78 million deal originally signed with the Sacramento Kings as a restricted free agent and later matched by the Bulls.

LaVine signed that contract six months after returning from rehabbing a torn ACL, and outplayed it rather quickly. In the four ensuing seasons, he developed into one of the most dynamic three-level scorers in the league, earning All-Star nods in 2021 and 2022.

His ascent motivated the Bulls' new front office to accelerate the team's contention timeline, swinging big moves for Nikola Vučević, DeMar DeRozan, Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso between the 2021 trade deadline and offseason.

In 2021-22, the Bulls went 46-36 and returned to the postseason for the first time in five years, falling to the then-defending champion Milwaukee Bucks in five games in the first round.

LaVine averaged 24.4 points on 60.5 percent true shooting, but battled lingering knee soreness from January through the end of the campaign. In late May, he underwent a minor knee scope to address the ailment, which isn't thought to be a long-term issue.

With LaVine in tow, the Bulls have 13 players under guaranteed contracts for 2022-23. His first-year salary does not take the team over the luxury tax line, meaning they still have the remainder of their non-taxpayer mid-level exception and minimum exceptions at their disposal to make further additions.

But the Bulls can now check off their biggest offseason priority.

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