Frustrated Bulls Star Confronts Coach Billy Donovan

Billy Donovan, Chicago Bulls

Getty Head coach Billy Donovan of the Chicago Bulls.

Perhaps this is one of the benefits of continuity, the likes of which Chicago Bulls vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas touted so heavily this past offseason.

It might sound as if Zach LaVine still feels some type of way about not getting the “opportunity” to make more shots.

“I told him at the very least bring me in for free throws,” LaVine said of the source of his frustration via Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic. “I think I could’ve helped at least seal the game with free throws and help get the ball in bounds. I’m one of the best players on the court regardless of who’s playing, and I think that I should be on the court in crunch time, and that’s just the mentality I have.”

But LaVine insists he still has a “good relationship” with Bulls head coach Billy Donovan.

Donovan’s Power Play

With the Bulls trailing the Orlando Magic by two points with about six minutes to go, LaVine came down the court and attempted an ill-advised step-back three. The result was a miss, a rather predictable outcome on this particular night.

LaVine was 1-for-14 with that miss, had just four points, and made himself a prime candidate through which Donovan could deliver his pre-game message.

The third-year Bulls boss had called his vets out publicly to step up their play on both ends.

“I felt in that moment in time it was best for the team,” Donovan said. “And I think he knows that I’ll always try to put the team first and do what’s best for the team. I also respect him from the standpoint, his opinion, he thought he needed to be out there, that was best for the team.”

That may be. LaVine is saying all of the right things in the wake of his comments out of his frustration after the game

“I think he understands, we’re grown men, it’s a grown man’s business. There’s gonna be uncomfortable days,” LaVine said after practice via ESPN’s Jamal Collier. “Just like in any sport or any business, you’re not gonna agree on every decision made. So you talk about it, you move on from it and you understand where the other side is coming from.”

Teammate Nikola Vucevic had an opportunity to put the Bulls up by four points with a pair of late free throws that would have all but sealed a Bulls victory. Instead, Vucevcic – who was shooting over 91% this season coming in – missed both tries.

Magic guard Jalen Suggs would come down and hit a game-winning three. LaVine praised the second unit’s effort in getting the Bulls back in the game and said that he understood Donovan’s decision while admitting he could have played better as he works to get “all the way back”.

LaVine Looking Inward

“It’s frustrating being able to get to the rim and then missing bunnies,” the two-time All-Star said of his explosiveness per Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic. “I’ve been getting there a lot and I’m just missing point-blank layups sometimes and not being able to get over the top, and then sometimes I am.”

Going into Monday’s tilt against the Boston Celtics, LaVine – a two-time NBA Slam Dunk champion– is averaging 0.5 dunks per game, per tracking data with six over his first 12 games and hit five of them.

Last season, even as he battled through a knee injury that required offseason knee surgery, LaVine averaged 0.97 dunks per game with 65 attempts (64 makes) in 67 games.

In 2020-21, with just 58 appearances, LaVine racked up 55 dunk attempts or 0.94 per game.

“I’ve had a lot of drives where I get there and I do finish acrobatically,” LaVine said of his finishing this season, “or get all the way to the top, get over the rim.”

LaVine averaged 1.5 dunk attempts in 2019-20 with 92 in 60 games. Since then, he has looked to dunk less but is still far off from his usual explosive self. He is finished about 52% of his looks within five feet of the rim this season, down from over 66% last year. The sooner he can get back to that form – if at all possible – the better for him and the Bulls.

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