LaVine anxious to move on from benching, worst performance of Bulls career
The past two weeks of Bulls basketball have been borderline inexplicable.
They survived a hectic early part of the schedule reasonably well, with a 6-6 record and quality wins over teams like Miami and Boston.
Then when there was finally some space between games and time to practice, they fell apart. The narrow home loss to New Orleans wasn't so bad, but the Bulls no-showed against Denver, were buried in the second half by a Pelicans team missing Zion Williamson, and became victims of Orlando's first road victory of the season Friday.
The chemistry appears off, but this slump could also just be a case of the Bulls not having enough reliable pieces around DeMar DeRozan. There are plenty of decent players, but the roster is generally low on consistent scorers, standout defenders and 3-point shooters.
The icing on the cake against Orlando was Zach LaVine having the worst performance of his Bulls career, going 1-for-14 from the field for 4 points. Coach Billy Donovan pulled LaVine and kept him on the bench for the last 3:43.
After Sunday's practice at the Advocate Center, LaVine said he did have a conversation with Donovan about what happened, though the story hasn't changed much since Friday.
"I just told him I feel like I've earned the right to go out there and try to play through a bad game," LaVine said Sunday. "His decision was to try to do the best thing for the team, which I respect. If we won, obviously I would've been ecstatic. We lost, I wasn't. I had a terrible game."
Donovan's move essentially worked. The Bulls rallied late and took a 4-point lead with 26.5 seconds left. But a pair of missed free throws by the usually-reliable Nikola Vucevic opened the door for Jalen Suggs to bury a game-winning 3-pointer.
"I told him at the very least bring me in for free throws," LaVine said. "I think I could've helped at least seal the game with free throws and help get the ball in bounds."
This story figures to disappear quickly. LaVine stressed he has a good relationship with Donovan and has never appeared angry about getting benched, just frustrated with the outcome. At the same time, Donovan appreciates LaVine wanting to be on the court.
"The one thing I've always tried to do with all these guys is you try to have open communication, open dialogue with all these guys all the time," Donovan said. "And I think any of these guys can say anything they want to me, and vice versa, I can say anything I need to say to them as well. That's part of the relationship."
LaVine signed a new contract over the summer worth $215 million over five years, the largest in Chicago sports history. There's always more pressure on the highest-paid players, but for now, the Bulls just need LaVine to be closer to his usual self.
After having arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in May, the two-time all-star is off to a slow start, averaging 20.7 points while shooting 41.5% overall and 36.2% from long range. Two seasons ago, LaVine's line was 27.4, 50.7% and 41.9%.
"I'm trying to get all the way back," LaVine said. "It's frustrating being able to get to the rim and then missing bunnies. I've been getting there a lot and I'm just missing point blank layups sometimes. I've had a lot of drives where I get there and I do finish acrobatically.
"So it's coming back. I think that's part of it. I had surgery late in the offseason and was not able to do as much as I really wanted to. It's frustrating but I'm going to get back to being Zach and get my lift and everything."
The path won't get any easier. The Bulls host Boston again on Monday, then visit Milwaukee on Wednesday for the start of a six-game road trip.