After back-to-back All-Star seasons with the Chicago Bulls, Zach LaVine will become an unrestricted free agent this summer. Reports indicate that the Bulls may be hesitant to hand the 27-year-old a max contract. If those reports are accurate, the Spurs may be able to lure LaVine to San Antonio with a max contract offer of their own.
While the Spurs would need to do some salary cap maneuverings to open up the necessary room to present LaVine with the largest allowable contract, multiple avenues exist to reach that number without too much damage being done. Here’s why giving big money to LaVine would make sense for the Spurs.
1. Zach LaVine is a Great Fit Next to Dejounte Murray
Zach LaVine and Dejounte Murray have a long-standing friendship that’s rooted in the fact that they’re both from the Seattle area. Yesterday, Murray made waves by posting (and then deleting) a photoshopped image on social media of LaVine in a Spurs jersey.
Beyond their friendship, LaVine and Murray are a strong fit on the basketball court and boast complementary strengths. Murray (6-foot-4) and LaVine (6-foot-5) would make for an imposing backcourt. Murray’s versatile defense would give the Spurs flexibility when selecting LaVine’s defensive matchups.
On the offensive end of the court, LaVine’s elite shooting would help spread the court for Murray. LaVine could also handle some of the playmaking duties, as he has averaged at least four assists for four consecutive seasons. Additionally, LaVine’s ability to get to the free throw line at a high rate would help hide Murray’s deficiency in that department.
2. The Spurs Desperately Need an Efficient Scorer
While San Antonio has their share of intriguing up-and-coming youngsters on the roster, none of the potential high-volume scorers have proven to be especially efficient. Murray, even in his All-Star campaign, had a true shooting percentage (53.3%) far below league average (56.6%).
Enter Zach LaVine, who averaged 24.4 points in 34.7 minutes per game. This season, LaVine posted a true shooting percentage of 60.5%. Last season, that number was at an even more elite 63.4%.
What makes LaVine so efficient? First, he shoots and makes a lot of three-pointers. Over the last three seasons, he has attempted 7.8 three-pointers per game and he shot them at a 39.6% clip. Second, LaVine utilizes his otherworldly leaping ability to finish at a very high percentage at the rim. Over his last two seasons, he has hit 55.2% of his two-point attempts. Finally, LaVine makes a living at the free throw line. Over the last four seasons, he has averaged 5.6 free throws per game while shooting 83.4%.
3. San Antonio’s Cap Space Window is Closing
The Spurs had a ton of cap space last offseason. This summer, they have another opportunity to open up a gaggle of cap space. Unfortunately, though, the Spurs can’t keep kicking that can down the road for an indefinite period of time. Eventually, their homegrown talent is going to cannibalize the cap space.
In fact, there is a very real possibility that this is the final summer that there will be megabucks available for San Antonio to deploy in free agency. Murray is on the road to possibly getting a max contract of his own. Keldon Johnson is going to make nine figures in his basketball career — the only question is how much of that will come in his next contract. Jakob Poeltl will be due a sizeable raise next summer.
If the Spurs don’t use their cap space to sign a free agent this summer, it may very well take another tear down and rebuild to open up cap space again.
4. Zach LaVine’s Connection to Gregg Popovich
Gregg Popovich coached Zach LaVine with Team USA. On the way to winning a gold medal, Popovich and LaVine had a seemingly great relationship.
“The thing I remember most about him, and I can almost quote him, is he would say, ‘Pop, just tell me what you want me to do and I’ll go do it.’ He must’ve told me that 10 times while we were there,” Popovich explained.
“He was really one of the favorites of a lot of people — not just coaches but other players who hadn’t played with him,” Popovich continued. “We were just stunned by some of the things he could do with the basketball and his speed. He always had a smile on his face. He was always ready to go. I enjoyed him very much. He was wonderful.”
5. The 2022 NBA Free Agent Class is Extremely Shallow
The good news: the Spurs are one of the very few teams in the league that can open up a max contract slot this summer. The bad news: this is a historically poor free agent class.
After you narrow down the list of free agents to those who are legitimately attainable, fit with San Antonio’s timeline and make sense for the roster, LaVine is at the head of the class. I don’t even know who would be second place on that list. It might be Kyle Anderson. Yes, that Kyle Anderson.
Sure, LaVine might not be the most perfect fit in San Antonio (how many 6-foot-5 guards does one team need?) but there’s a compelling argument that he’s head and shoulders above the rest of the field.
6. The Spurs are Incentivized to Weaken the Bulls
As part of the DeMar DeRozan trade, the Bulls owe the Spurs two future draft picks. Most likely, those picks will be a first rounder and a second rounder in 2025. Thus, the Spurs have reasons why they don’t want to see the Bulls thrive in upcoming years.
Plucking LaVine out of Chicago helps San Antonio now and should again help them in the future when it comes time to collect those draft picks.
7. San Antonio has Injury Management Experience
Why might the Bulls let a two-time All-Star walk in free agency? The primary reason is his left knee. LaVine tore the ACL in his left knee five years ago. This offseason, he’s going to need another surgery on his left knee.
The Spurs will have to take a look at LaVine’s knee but reports indicate that he’s not dealing with a degenerative injury and that this latest surgery shouldn’t impact his long-term durability.
Obviously, giving a max contract to a player following a second knee surgery is less than ideal — but it shouldn’t be a deal-breaker. LaVine is so much better than anyone else the Spurs could look to target, even factoring in his knee woes. Besides, the Bulls would never even think of letting him go if it wasn’t for this latest knee surgery, so this is a necessary part of the package.
Once in San Antonio, the Spurs have plenty of experience dealing with injury management. The first thing they’d do is lower the amount of minutes he plays per game from 34-35 to closer to 30.
LaVine’s age is another reason to believe in him. If the Spurs sign him outright, the max contract they can give him is approximately $160 million over four years. At 27 years of age, San Antonio should get four strong seasons out of him before the potential wear-and-tear on his knee slows him down.
Murray’s social media ponderings may have just been an innocent way of indicating he wants to play with his talented friend. But after weighing all the possibilities this offseason, the Spurs may be very serious about their interest in LaVine.