The Chicago Bulls are still split on what Zach LaVine’s ceiling is, says ESPN 1000’s David Kaplan. With the two-time All-Star an unrestricted free agent, this is probably not the sentiment the front office wants.
How much of that was a matter of public relations? It is possible that was leaked to counteract a report from NBC Sports Chicago’s K.C. Johnson. League sources at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago expressed uncertainty over the Bulls’ plans.
Perhaps this latest report from Kaplan on the “Kap and J. Hood” morning show explains the conflicting sentiments.
Bulls Brass’ Big Decision
LaVine failed to earn an All-NBA designation this season after sharing the floor with DeMar DeRozan. He also battled through torn thumb ligaments and a knee injury that required surgery this offseason.
That was a point LaVine was sure to make clear in his much-discussed exit interview. He could have easily sat out more than just the decisive Game 5 against the Milwaukee Bucks ahead of this important time for him.
Instead, he chose the team – which includes DeRozan – over his money and even health.
Still, that was apparently not enough for some within the organization, according to Kaplan, who adds that the skeptics need to see something more from him.
“There are some who want to give him the max. There are others that feel like he does not have the dog mentality it takes to win big. Solid player, good ball-handler, good facilitator…is he going to truly kill you when the game is on the line.”
For what it is worth, DeRozan averaged 2.3 field goal attempts in clutch situations during the regular season, per NBA.com.
LaVine was right behind him with 1.9 clutch attempts.
Kaplan then names several players who many consider “killers”. Among them are Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets, Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, and Bulls legend Michael Jordan.
That is not exactly a list of scrubs to compare LaVine with all three in or destined for the Hall of Fame.
Comparisons are King and Key
A lot of the fuss around LaVine stems from his exit interview. But league sources have also told Heavy’s Sean Deveney that Klutch Sports, who represent the 2020 Olympic gold medalist, are behind much of it.
Still, the debate of LaVine’s killer mentality brought back a common talking point and rumored sore spot for LaVine: DeRozan.
Kaplan assigned the “killer” label to LaVine’s teammate. It is understandable when DeRozan earned the moniker “king of the Fourth Quarter” for his late-game heroics during the regular season.
Bulls wing Javonte Green refuted the notion that there was any tension between DeRozan and LaVine in an interview with WARR Media’s Josh Hicks. Stacey King, who played for the team and now calls their games, said something similar in an appearance on the “CHGO_Bulls” podcast.
Kaplan’s partner, Jonathan Hood, pushed back on Kaplan’s assessment of DeRozan, saying he was more of a “beta” option than a true “alpha”. Hood went on to say that the Bulls need to cultivate that player.
He does think LaVine has what it takes though.
“LaVine is an ‘alpha dog’ because we’ve seen him take shots and you’re like, “wow, I can’t believe he took that last shot”. But he has the balls to do it…But it was with losing teams. He had no other choice. He was the only one out there. He was the best player on terrible teams.”
Let it Breathe
Kaplan offered up how forward Patrick Williams’ development will be the key for the organization going forward. But Hood came right back with a message aimed at the LaVine doubters in the Bulls organization.
“For those in the front office that say they’re not sure that LaVine is an “alpha dog” or “the leader”, well, he just started winning last year. Maybe he develops into that. Are you willing to see whether or not he develops into that? Because all you have…is the 30-point games and losing by 20 [points].”
Hood reminded Kaplan that the Bulls are in between a rock and a hard place if LaVine leaves and Kaplan reminded a caller of LaVine sometimes settling for tough jump shots. It’s something Johnson addressed in an appearance on Kaplan’s “Unfiltered”.
The two agreed that part of DeRozan’s takeover was due to LaVine’s injury issues this past season. They also decried his reported dissatisfaction with his role on the Bulls, asserting it is indeed his team going forward.
This is clearly still far from over.