In the heart of the Windy City, Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine finds himself in No Man’s Land. He’s a talented scorer with exceptional athleticism who’s facing a very critical season ahead, so much so that it may not only silence his critics, but also alter his place in the league.

Trade winds are continuing to blow, and the pressure is bubbling up for the 28-year-old. He ought to be motivated to perform, not only for his career, but also to show up the Bulls front office who have been actively shopping him all off-season long.

LaVine’s undeniable skill set has never been in question. His ability to light up the scoreboard with an array of dazzling dunks, deep three-pointers, and acrobatic finishes has made him one of the league’s premier offensive talents. He also posted good numbers, registering 24.2 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 4.2 assists per game alongside nice shooting splits of 48.5% / 37.5% / 84.8%.

That said…

To be fair, the questions on LaVine’s true ability to lead has some weight. He has five-straight seasons of 23 or more points per game, yet he’s only been to one postseason. Further, after a promising 2021-22 campaign that led to a playoff appearance, the Bulls shockingly regressed and even failed to secure a berth in 2022-23.

Another criticism is the perceived redundancy of his partnership with DeMar DeRozan. Both players excel in scoring and have similar offensive tendencies (swingmen that likes isolations, midrange shots, and high-flying attacks), leading some to question if they can truly coexist as a dynamic backcourt duo. While there’s no denying their individual brilliance, it’s imperative for LaVine to prove that they can complement each other and lead the Bulls to success.

Rejected by the Blazers

The trade rumors swirling around LaVine have only added fuel to the fire. The Bulls reportedly offered him to the Portland Trail Blazers to join the Damian Lillard trade hoopla. However, the Blazers swiftly declined the offer, leaving LaVine in an awkward position. 

It’s perplexing why a player of LaVine’s caliber has seemingly low market value. Two factors may contribute to this, and it’s coming on different sides: his hefty contract and the Bulls’ lofty demands. LaVine is in the second year of a five-year, $215 million deal, which accounts for $40-plus million per year or over 30% of the salary cap. Additionally, the Bulls have set a high price for his services, requesting multiple first-round picks and an elite player in return.

Despite these obstacles, LaVine’s response to the trade rumors will be telling. It’s a pivotal moment in his career, one that can either galvanize him to prove his worth or cast doubt on his ability to lead a franchise. The upcoming season is an opportunity for LaVine to showcase his determination, to silence those who question his ability, to take the Bulls to the next level, and to establish himself as that guy, and not just a stats and highlights kind of player.

If LaVine ends up on a new city, though, the challenge should stay the same. He will need to raise his game a few notches higher.