LaVine on Bulls: ‘We have so much offensive versatility’

CHICAGO — After signing his new four-year, $78 million deal with the Bulls, guard Zach LaVine knows there’s going to be outside pressure for him to stay healthy and live up to the money coming his way.

The Sacramento Kings signed LaVine to the $78 million offer sheet, but the Bulls quickly matched the deal, as they weren’t willing to let the centerpiece player they acquired in the Jimmy Butler trade slip out of their hands for nothing.

LaVine was disappointed he couldn’t reach an initial deal with the Bulls, but understands the nature of the business.

“I never wanted to leave, that’s the main thing. But business is business,” LaVine told Vincent Goodwill of NBC Sports Chicago. “The offer sheet happened and thank God the Bulls matched it. That’s exactly what we wanted to happen. I never wanted it to get to that point.”

LaVine played in 24 games this past season after missing majority of the year recovering from left ACL surgery. The high-flyer averaged 16.7 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.0 assists, shooting 38.3 percent from the field and 34.1 percent from 3-point range.

LaVine’s new contract with the Bulls includes language that protects the franchise in case his surgically repaired knee develops further complications.

Now that LeBron James is out of the Eastern Conference, many teams in the East believe this is the time to take risks and make a run, and it appears that’s what the Bulls are doing.

The Bulls signed Chicago native Jabari Parker to a two-year, $40 million deal. Parker has suffered two ACL tears, which is why the second year of his deal is a team-option.

Essentially, Parker is getting a one-year tryout with his hometown Bulls and the hope is that he can stay healthy and be productive for Chicago at the small forward position. In 31 games in 2017-18 with the Milwaukee Bucks, Parker averaged 12.6 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.9 assists while shooting 48.2 percent from the field and 38.3 percent from three.

The Bulls can throw out a starting lineup of Kris Dunn, LaVine, Parker, Lauri Markkanen and veteran center Robin Lopez. They drafted Duke big man Wendell Carter Jr. with the seventh overall pick in the 2018 NBA draft and Boise State’s Chandler Hutchison with the 22nd pick. Both players were impressive in summer league.

“I’m excited because we have so much offensive versatility, I feel like the floor can be really spaced,” LaVine said. “Regardless if somebody has a bad game, we’ll be able to pick up the slack at different positions. I think we’ll be able to get after it. I’m excited to get to work.”

LaVine admits he’s heard the criticism of his poor defense and understands that’s an area he has to improve in. The scoring guard has been watching clips of his best and worst defensive moments from last year.

“I have to step it up a lot,” LaVine said. “I’ve always been somebody that can keep somebody in front of me. I’ve had mishaps off the ball, with awareness and things like that. That’s always something you can improve on.”

Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg said in Las Vegas he’s excited for LaVine to have a full summer of training ahead of his second season in the Windy City.

“I think we’re all very excited about Zach coming back as a Bull and being here long-term,” Hoiberg said. “He’s 23-years-old, he’s got as good of athleticism as anybody in this league. He shoots the ball easy, I think he’s going to be in great shape coming off a full summer where he’s (playing) basketball as opposed to rehab. So we’re going to be in a good place heading into the season with hopefully a full complement of healthy players.”