They fell 102-100 to the Washington Wizards on October 21 despite another 30-point effort from DeMar DeRozan. Now 1-1 and heading to the United Center for their home opener, the Bulls will get LaVine back in the fold.
But just what can fans expect, not only this game but also the rest of the season?
Bulls head coach Billy Donovan spoke out about just what the plan was for the two-time All-Star in the immediate future. As for LaVine’s long-term outlook and future beyond this season, that much was not as readily discussed this time, though the guard may have already spilled the beans on that too.
Donovan Sounds Off
Speaking with reporters ahead of the Bulls’ tilt with the Wizards, Donovan was very positive about LaVine being full-go once he does take the floor. But Donovan suggested that there were a lot of variables that will go into just how they treat LaVine.
“I think a lot of that is going to depend on what does the front-end look like and what does the back-end look like,’’ Donovan said. “There’s no minute restriction on him, but clearly the more load there is on him you’ll have to take a look at him. There’s nothing going into the game where they are saying ‘Listen, we’ve got to keep his minutes right here.’ Certainly, him playing 40 minutes or 39 or 38 isn’t the best thing.’’ (h/t Joe Cowley/Chicago Sun-Times)
To Donovan’s point, LaVine fell just shy of his third-highest minutes-per-game in his career, finishing just behind his 2020 season with just under 35 minutes per contest.
He did that despite playing through the knee injury over the final 29 games of the campaign.
LaVine’s minutes actually went up after he aggravated the knee but his effectiveness certainly waned. His explosiveness was not the same and the defensive gains he showed to begin the year reverted back into weaknesses.
Donovan declined to lay out a schedule for LaVine’s absences, saying that the team’s doctors may opt to rest him despite LaVine feeling up to playing.
LaVine seemed to be accepting of his new reality.
“I think that’s just the truth about it,” LaVine admitted to reporters. “I’ll have to manage it and go through different things before and after practice to make sure I’m feeling good every day. That’s life in basketball and guys getting older. I’ve had two knee surgeries now. I have to understand that I have to do the little extra things to make sure I’m feeling at my best every game.”
LaVine and the Bulls were adamant that he was healthy coming off of surgery with the latter noting the former’s “pop” had returned. There were even videos of LaVine dunking that preceded that proclamation.
But, ahead of the season-opening matchup against the Miami Heat, Donovan revealed some all-too-familiar sounding notes on LaVine’s status.
“There was a lot of very, very physically demanding practices, to be quite honest with you, coming out of the Milwaukee game,” Donovan told reporters, referencing the Bulls’ preseason finale against the Bucks, which LaVine sat out. “And I think after a few of those, he felt some discomfort.” (h/t Rob Schaefer/NBC Sports Chicago)
That sounds a lot like Ball’s ramp-up process that ultimately led to a second surgery.
One major difference has been LaVine saying that he feels good.
“I just want to work my way into it, obviously coming off the knee. I’ve been feeling really good and don’t want to put any extra stress on there when I don’t need to. Felt good to get up and down. I feel fine. Want to keep it that way.”
Bulls Big Risk
Johnson responded to a fan in the latest edition of his mailbag about the ramifications of the Bulls paying two guards who seemingly cannot stay on the floor. Both having knee issues is an added bit of concern for this fan base.
“If both LaVine and Lonzo Ball’s situations remain troublesome, the Bulls would be in poor shape. Both deals are obviously fully guaranteed, and Ball has a $21.4 million player option for 2024-25. Anyone who lived through the Derrick Rose saga knows how much injuries to high-salaried players can hamstring a team.”
Mentioning Rose will bring back memories of him with his supreme athleticism becoming the youngest MVP in league history.
But it will also bring back memories of his catastrophic knee injuries that cut his prime short.
In addition to the $215 owed to LaVine, the Bulls still owe another $60 million to Ball over the next three years. While they could still find some team interested in their services should it come to that, damaged goods always sell for less.