The primary goal for Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine was to get on the court this season.
And, no, that’s not a reference to the Derrick Rose torn ACL and any fans with unpleasant memories of Rose waiting 18 months to return from a torn ACL.
LaVine took the floor roughly 11 months after his injury and still had plenty of his trademark athleticism. But as far as judging what kind of player he will be for the Bulls, the jury is definitely out.
There was no reason for LaVine to try to prove anything. Winning wasn’t a high priority in the rebuilding season and he ended up playing in just 24 games.
“Our goal this year for Zach was just to get him playing basketball again,” John Paxson, Bulls vice president of basketball operations, said last week. “He had a significant injury. We dealt with Derrick, who had the same injury. We’re sensitive to how it affects our player and how difficult it can be for them to come back. He did get back on the floor.”
There’s really no point in trying to analyze LaVine’s numbers. They don’t compare well to his third season in Minnesota, before tearing the ACL in his left knee. LaVine clearly was trying to get comfortable again and shot just 38.3 percent from the field for the Bulls.
But he did produce 11 20-point games, including a high of 35 against his former team at the United Center on Feb. 9, the most impressive victory he participated in this season.
LaVine could be a completely different player next season after spending the summer playing basketball instead of rehabbing a knee injury. At this point, though, some caution seems to be in order.
LaVine was clearly the centerpiece of last summer’s Jimmy Butler trade, but it would be wrong to expect him to be Butler’s replacement. Based on what happened last season, any of the three newcomers — LaVine, Kris Dunn or Lauri Markkanen — could turn out to be the best player in that trade.
To assume LaVine needs to be the Bulls’ new star would be premature, and he seemed to understand that when speaking to reporters after the season finale.
“You get back (next season) and you work all that out,” LaVine said. “But I’m trying to be the best Zach LaVine I can be. The best me I know can be a very good talent. I’m not going to stop working until I’m an elite player in this league. I feel like I have the talent to, I have the drive to, and I want that.”
Of course, LaVine was part of Minnesota’s young nucleus with Karl Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.
That group never came close to contending for the playoffs, and even after adding Butler, Taj Gibson, Jeff Teague and Jamal Crawford this year, the Timberwolves squeaked into the playoffs on the last day of the season.
Lavine has not been a winner during his four NBA seasons, and that’s not necessarily his fault. He has been playing on young and inexperienced teams.
The point is, he needs to learn how to win, and it’s not clear how that process will play out.
“He had some really good moments, but he has a ways to go,” Paxson said. “That’s his responsibility to work and become better player.
“I don’t get caught up at all in who’s the so-called man. When you get a group that plays together, it generally results in a group that wins games at a higher level. That’s our goal obviously.”
LaVine is a restricted free agent this summer. Concerns that LaVine’s agent will demand a maximum contract are probably unfounded. LaVine hasn’t come close to meriting a max contract.
There may be some discussion about the length of the new deal, since LaVine could make his case in the next couple of seasons.
It’s nearly impossible to imagine a scenario where LaVine doesn’t re-sign with the Bulls this summer.
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