CHICAGO — Although Zach LaVine said he went into NBA free agency this summer with an “open mind,” his decision to return to the Chicago Bulls turned out to be an easy one, especially once the team offered him a five-year max contract extension with a player option for the fifth season.
“Chicago is my home,” LaVine said during a video call with reporters on Monday. “We’ve built something over the last — well, at least for me, I’ve been here for five years — and over the last two, three, built something. Being able to come back as a cornerstone piece and allowing them to get some of my insights, some of my input in constructing the roster to help me and help us win, was really big for me.”
In his first comments since signing a five-year, $215 million extension to remain in Chicago, LaVine said he did not meet with any other teams during free agency, saying he believed it would’ve been disrespectful to do so.
Respect has been key for LaVine during his contract negotiations. He believed he had outplayed his previous contract after blossoming into a two-time All-Star during the span of that four-year, $78 million deal he signed in 2018, and he made it clear last summer that he wanted to be respected with this deal. The Bulls met his demands, handing him the largest contract in franchise history and more than any other team could have offered him.
“I went into the offseason with an open mind. I laid out my goals, just like I always have,” LaVine said. “Once I was able to meet with [general manager Marc Eversley and Bulls VP of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas] and they came to me with everything that I wanted, there was no other reason for me to go outside and look at any other teams.
“I think that would’ve been, for me, disrespectful on my end because they gave me everything that I asked for. Everything on the table that I looked at had Chicago as all the pros. I did my due diligence on my own time as well and looked at things and made a decision for me and my family. But my heart was in Chicago.”
LaVine, 27, will be entering his sixth season with the Bulls after joining the organization as one of the centerpieces in the Jimmy Butler trade from Chicago to Minnesota. He missed most of his first season in Chicago, playing 24 games after recovering from a torn ACL in his left knee he sustained during his time with the Timberwolves.
Since then, LaVine became one of the faces of the franchise even while the team struggled on the court. The Bulls missed the playoffs in his first four seasons before a roster makeover brought in Nikola Vucevic, DeMar DeRozan and Lonzo Ball to play alongside LaVine. Last season, Chicago made the playoffs for the first time since 2017.
“This is just something that is a token of respect, them viewing me as the type of player that I’ve been for the last four years and continue to see in the future what I can bring to the table,” LaVine said. “I’m happy, I’m excited and working with me to bring me back, it was great.
“Individually, [I want] to keep pushing myself to reach higher and higher things; if it isn’t All-NBAs, if it isn’t MVPs, team-wise, it’s win a championship. I think there’s nothing above that. You’ve heard me say individual things come with winning, and the better and better we get as a team and I keep (pushing) myself to get better as a player, I think those things can match up.”
LaVine averaged 24.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.5 assists in 67 games last season and spent most of the second half nursing a left knee injury that required surgery. The Bulls were appreciative that LaVine — despite being clearly hampered at some points of the season — continued to play through the injury during a contract year, and did not consider his injury a detriment to negotiating a new deal.
LaVine underwent arthroscopic knee surgery on his left knee, the same one that required ACL surgery in 2017, in May. He described the procedure as a “run-of-the-mill-knee scope.”
“I feel way better,” he said Monday. “I’ve been rehabbing, working out, playing, lifting, doing all the good stuff and boring stuff, too. You have to start slow, like always. It’s been good and I feel really good, and over the next two months, getting back into the season I feel like I’m gonna be even better.”
This story originally Appeared on ESPN