Should the Knicks trade for Zach Lavine?

Julius Randle, New York Knicks
Dec 14, 2022; Chicago, Illinois, USA; New York Knicks forward Julius Randle (30) drives to the basket against Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine (8) during the first half at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Knicks are among the several NBA teams reportedly monitoring Zach LaVine’s situation with the spiraling Chicago Bulls.

After the Bulls’ back-to-back losses to the Knicks last week, several reports indicated that frustrations are starting to reach boiling point in Chicago.

The Athletic reported that LaVine and the Bulls management aren’t seeing eye to eye. But the more damning of them all is the reported confrontation between LaVine and some of his teammates during halftime of another lackluster loss against his former team, the Minnesota Timberwolves, last Sunday.

But Bulls coach Billy Donovan chose to look at the brighter side and took it as a sign of accountability.

LaVine and the Bulls responded swiftly to the controversies with a 113-103 win against the Jimmy Butler-less Miami Heat Tuesday night that snapped a four-game losing skid.

Still, they remain to be one of the most interesting teams to watch ahead of the February 9 trade deadline as they remain half a game out of a play-in scenario.

LaVine is in the first season of a $215 million, five-year max deal he signed last summer. He is having a down year following a back-to-back All-Star season with the Bulls. Through the first 26 games of the season, the 27-year-old guard is averaging 21.7 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 4.2 assists while shooting 44.5 percent from the field and 36.5 percent from the three-point zone. All those numbers are his worst in the last three seasons.

The Knicks are the hottest team in the NBA, with an eight-game winning streak. But that hasn’t stopped them from looking for avenues to upgrade their roster. Their deep collection of first-round picks and mid-size tradable contracts remain intact after missing out on three-time All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell last summer.

LaVine is fond of Thibodeau, who coached him for one season in Minnesota before he was shipped for Butler.

“[Thibodeau’s] style works. He’s not a beat-around-the-bush type of guy. Once you buy into his coaching, I mean, look at the track record. It’s pretty damn good.

Look, I understand the business of basketball. Yeah, he traded me, but for that one season he did coach me, he gave me an opportunity. He put the ball in the hands of a 20, 21-year-old kid and said, ‘Go hoop.’ That’s bigger than the business of basketball.”

Zach LaVine via Chicago Sun-Times after Knicks hired Tom Thibodeau in 2020

LaVine cannot be traded until Jan. 15 because he re-signed using Bird rights. It will also be a complicated trade for the Knicks if the Bulls ask for RJ Barrett as the centerpiece of any potential deal because of the poison pill. His outgoing value for the Knicks will be $10.9 million, while his incoming value for the Bulls, in case of a trade, will be $23.5 million. It’s not impossible, but it will take some salary cap gymnastics to get it done.

Swapping LaVine for Barrett and one or two young pieces, plus a haul of draft picks, will advance the Knicks’ timeline. But much like the Mitchell trade, their ceiling will still be limited to the second tier of the Eastern Conference behind championship contenders Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics.

But that’s still a better scenario for them than the status quo.

If the Knicks can get away with surrendering only two unprotected first-round picks in any potential LaVine package, they would still have some draft capital to go after one major piece to elevate them to legit contender status.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

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