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Agent Rich Paul fights back against Bulls' slander of Zach LaVine – NBC Sports Chicago

Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich

The entire NBA knows that the Chicago Bulls want to trade two-time All-Star guard Zach LaVine. This has been speculated about for months, if not years.

And the longer the matter drags on, the greater the risk of disorder. Fingers can be pointed, accusations made, and leaks can be smeared.

Rich Paul, LaVine's agent and CEO of Klutch Sports Group, wanted to address this dynamic on Thursday.

“I want to be clear and unambiguous: The whole notion that Zach was anything but professional in that situation is false. This guy played while hurt. He represented the franchise with class. A lot happened during his time with the Bulls and he conducted himself honorably every time,” Paul said by phone. “Does every player get frustrated sometimes? Yes. But Zach was the ultimate professional and deserves better.”

“The Bulls have business to do. And we let them do their business.”

This deal has been in full swing since July 2023. Back then, the Bulls had preliminary trade talks about LaVine with the Portland Trail Blazers when they still had Damian Lillard and the Philadelphia 76ers when they still had James Harden. Other trade rumors about LaVine also surfaced at that time.

Just two years ago, LaVine's relationship with the Bulls was in full bloom. In July 2022, he signed a five-year, $215 million contract, fresh off his second All-Star nomination and his first playoff appearance – the Bulls' first since 2017.

The future seemed limitless and, in LaVine's eyes, free from the distractions of trade rumors.

Instead, the Bulls endured two consecutive playoff-less seasons. And as LaVine and the Bulls got off to a poor start in the 2023-24 season, The Athletic reported that “both sides' openness to exploring a trade has increased.”

Although this was the first time LaVine opened the door to a change of scenery, he never demanded a trade. He focused on overcoming his and the Bulls' slow start to the season and trying to figure out and treat the pain in his right foot that ultimately required season-ending surgery.

“We went to them and said, 'We understand the basketball business. If we keep playing like this and you guys are considering changes, let's work together,'” LaVine told NBC Sports Chicago midway through last season. “I never said I wanted to be traded.”

LaVine returned from his first extended absence due to a foot injury and helped the Bulls to a 5-2 record in January, but the pain in his foot remained. LaVine and his representative sought outside medical opinions, which is standard practice in the NBA.

When LaVine opted for season-ending surgery, the Bulls' official team statement said: “After seeking additional medical opinions and in consultation with the Chicago Bulls training and medical staff, guard Zach LaVine and the Klutch Sports Group have elected to perform surgery on LaVine's right foot as the next step in his recovery process.”

That wording, along with rumors that the Detroit Pistons were interested in trading for LaVine, created the false narrative that LaVine had opted for surgery rather than joining the regrouping Pistons. Multiple league sources indicated at the time that Pistons decision-makers were split on the trade for LaVine and that the Bulls were not close to a deal.

Speaking to a small group of reporters in Los Angeles in March, LaVine addressed the claim that he chose surgery rather than a trade to the Pistons.

“You never want to have surgery. But I came to the conclusion, especially based on what the doctor told me, that the pain is so bad and this thing isn't going to heal on its own,” LaVine said at the time. “It's a bone that's floating around. It's what's called a pseudoarthros-Jones fracture, which I've been dealing with for a while. And when the doctor – I'm glad I was able to find him – told me that I needed to get this done sooner rather than later, it was good to know.”

This is the second time LaVine has played despite an injury. In the 2021-22 season, he played despite a knee injury that required arthroscopic surgery – in a contract year – as the franchise was heading for its first playoff berth since 2017. Back then, he repeatedly said he was confident he could help the team even at 80 percent performance.

LaVine has experienced many ups and downs in his seven seasons with the Bulls, including being the face of the franchise during their difficult rebuild from 2017 to 2021. He has also experienced many highs, both personally and with teammates like Coby White, whom he named the NBA's most improved player last season.

But this relationship has seemed headed for divorce for some time now, and the longer he stays with the Bulls, the greater the potential for disarray.

“I think we have a great relationship with Zach, a great relationship with his representative, Rich Paul,” Artūras Karnišovas, executive vice president of basketball operations, said after the Bulls' inactive trade deadline in February. “I think we always work together, and I think his mind is always on the team. He tries to win. And he tries to win when he's healthy.”

LaVine is now healthy again, has shaved weeks off the expected return time of four to six months from foot surgery and is going about his normal offseason routine. Where he will play next season remains to be seen.

By trading Josh Giddey to play alongside White, the Bulls appear ready to build a backcourt for the future. The mutual understanding between Bulls management and LaVine's view that a change of scenery is best for everyone involved seems to be the smart way to go.

The Bulls have made more than 15 proposals to teams in recent weeks, with league sources saying the Kings and Warriors showed the most interest, though the latter have since made moves that likely point in a different direction.

Interested teams will likely want an additional asset to take on LaVine's three years and $138 million, but the longer it takes to sort out this situation, the less value the Bulls could get in return.

With DeMar DeRozan's situation also unclear, the Bulls have a lot of work to do. In an offseason that Karnišovas says is marked by change, LaVine's future is at the forefront.

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