Chicago Bulls shooting guard Zach LaVine is having a terrific season. The two-time All-Star is averaging 24.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.5 assists while shooting 48.1% from the field, 39.8% from beyond the arc and 87.0% from the free-throw line.
Behind the stellar play of LaVine and DeMar DeRozan, the Bulls are in second place in the Eastern Conference standings and will make the playoffs for the first time since 2017.
Since the Michael Jordan era ended in 1998, the Bulls haven’t gotten back to the NBA Finals. They have a chance to break that drought this season, although it will be tough since the East has so many good teams, headlined by the Milwaukee Bucks, Miami Heat and Philadelphia 76ers.
The next few months are critical for LaVine, who will be playing in the postseason for the first time in his career and becomes an unrestricted free agent in the summer. If the two-time Slam Dunk champion plays like a superstar in the playoffs, he will likely receive a max contract from the Bulls in free agency.
However, there’s a small chance LaVine may not play up to his full potential in the postseason.
LaVine: ‘My Knee Isn’t 100%’
LaVine told Bulls reporters on March 2 that his left knee “isn’t 100%.” The Washington native initially hurt his knee on January 14 against the Golden State Warriors and some swelling was taken out of the knee a few weeks ago.
Getting fluid drained from his left knee and receiving an injection has helped LaVine. However, the high-flier won’t be 100% again until he addresses the ailment in the offseason.
“That’s going to be a discussion for me and my doctor to figure out a plan of action to make me feel that I can get back to 100 percent,” LaVine said, via K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago. “I mean my knee isn’t 100 percent. That’s just the reality of it.”
After missing five games between January 15 and 23 and then another five in February due to a combination of knee pain and back spasms, LaVine visited the doctor who performed the February 2017 surgery to repair his torn left ACL before the All-Star break. The visit, which was in Los Angeles, helped him physically.
However, LaVine admitted that the fluid draining and injection was a temporary solution.
“I’ll deal with it later. We don’t know what that is going to be and how exactly we’re going to approach it. But it is pretty much like a bandaid,” LaVine said, via Johnson. “It’s making me feel better for the time being and getting me to a place where I feel comfortable playing and being effective on the court over this last stretch. And then the offseason, I’ll deal with whatever I have to.”
LaVine can re-sign with the Bulls this summer on a five-year deal worth around $200 million. Many players would sit out in a contract year if they were dealing with an injury, but LaVine isn’t built like that.
LaVine: ‘I’m Focused on the Season’
LaVine is showing off his unselfishness by playing through his knee injury. The 26-year-old knows how special the Bulls are and he doesn’t want to miss out on playing in the playoffs.
“It’s a big commitment. I feel like if I haven’t shown that by playing through these injuries or if it was about worrying about a contract, there are people who shut that stuff down immediately,” LaVine said, via Johnson. “I just don’t take it that way. I have a big responsibility here with the team, my teammates, my coaches, the city of Chicago. I take a lot of pride in that. It means something to me. And I hope people understand that I’m going out here and definitely not putting myself first here in this situation.”
Bulls fans already loved LaVine before this season. It’s safe to say their admiration for him will grow even more after hearing that he’s playing hurt.