The shortcomings of the Chicago Bulls’ top duo of DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine were as clear as they have ever been this past season, even leading to multiple face-to-face meetings to rectify the situation. Despite that turbulence, LaVine insisted they are friends off the court and are determined to make it work on it during his exit interview via the Bull’s YouTube channel on April 15.
To that end, DeRozan explained his motivation for wanting to work through the rough patches.
“He do stuff on the court…that puts me in a ‘what the f***?’ [state of shock],” DeRozan said on ‘Podcast P with Paul George’ on May 15. “You know what I mean? How special he is, you know what I mean?”
“Last year with my first year in Chicago, coming to play with it with a guy like Zach – that hasn’t had the success to match his talent over his career – to be able to just come together with him and be able to share that with him. Both of us being All-Stars my first year there. Just being able to show the world his true talents, it’s been great.
The Bulls failed to make the playoffs this year after snapping a five-year postseason drought last year, winning six fewer games in the regular season. But their 14-9 finish has instilled confidence from executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas they can work together.
LaVine shook off a slow start to the season following offseason knee surgery, averaging 26.3 points per game from December 19 on, ranking 19th in the NBA in that span, while also knocking down 50.5% of his shots and 38.1% of his deep looks. He added 4.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists but fell just short of one full steal per game. And DeRozan still believes in his teammate not only now, but in what he can still become.
“That gives me a different type of drive and a motivation just to give everything that I’ve learned since I’ve been in the league to give it off to him so he could take it to another level,” DeRozan told George about LaVine’s ability.
LaVine is signed through 2027 on a five-year, $215 million contract while DeRozan is heading into the final year of his three-year, $81.9 million contract, the perfect time to pass the torch.
DeMar DeRozan Stepped Back as Zach LaVine Stepped Up
DeRozan’s field goal attempts dropped slightly from 17.9 per game up to December 18 to 17.4 from December 19 on. But he also began taking more threes, showing just how much he was adjusting.
Similarly, LaVine’s attempts rose from 17.8 per game before December 18 to 18.1 after that point while he took fewer threes and attacked more.
Part of that trade-off was surely the leg injury that had DeRozan on the injury report with a thigh, knee, and hip ailment at different points of the season and cropped up at different points down the stretch. But DeRozan also has taken it upon himself to impart his knowledge on the Bulls’ younger players and, at 33 years old, the 28-year-old LaVine surely counts.
“That’s been the fun part and cool part about it,” DeRozan said.
“Throughout my career, the guys that I play with, I kind of lean towards them. Like Kyle Lowry when we played together in Toronto [on the Raptors]. Always used to lean towards him for so much with him being older. And being able to play with LaMarcus Aldridge in San Antonio [on the Spurs]. Now being the older guy, to be able to play with such a talented guy, it’s been fun for me. It’s great just giving my knowledge, my experience off to him and kind of try to figure out ways to match that together so we could be the best we could be.”
DeMar DeRozan: Celtics’ Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown Need to ‘Stay Together’
DeRozan and LaVine – or Paul George and Kawhi Leonard – have to wait until next season to prove themselves.
But DeRozan did offer up some sage advice for the Boston Celtics front office.
The Celtics are preparing for Game 1 of their second consecutive Eastern Conference Finals appearance and their fifth in the last seven years. But they have dealt with similar whispers about splitting up stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown as DeRozan and LaVine have faced.
Even during this postseason run.
“It’s so hard to find two talented Wings in our game to be on the same team,” DeRozan said. “And those guys have gained so much experience already playing together being to the Finals, being [to the] Conference Finals, All-Stars. It’s so hard to find that when you’re a organization…I hope they stay together.”
Only eight other NBA duos saw at least 1600 minutes and posted a better net rating than Brown and Tatum’s plus-6.3 mark during the regular season, per NBA.com.
Four of those other duos were also in the Eastern Conference and Boston just eliminated the team that put two of the duos in the group in the Philadelphia 76ers while the other two both came from the Cleveland Cavaliers who failed to make the postseason.