We’ve been hearing about it since the summer. At first, it was easy to ignore. But, ahead of the Chicago Bulls‘ (12-18) eventual 113-103 win over a short-handed Miami Heat team, reports came out confirming that there is some friction between Zach LaVine and the front office.
What’s more, there have been multiple team meetings with “blowups” occurring at least two times, according to Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.
Unfortunately for the Bulls, NBC Sports Chicago’s K.C. Johnson detailed where the divide lies.
This situation has been under the microscope since last year and that only intensified this past offseason. That pressure may now be getting to the players as they turn on the one who said that this year was no different than any other before it – the Bulls’ $215 million man.
Bulls Turning on LaVine
“Can confirm…that players had strong exchange at halftime of Timberwolves loss, which drew coaches’ attention,” Johnson tweeted. “Sources said multiple teammates directed frustration at Zach LaVine, and the situation intensified.”
This bombshell comes in the immediate wake of another in the form of a report from The Athletic’s Shams Charania who wrote on the disconnect between LaVine and the organization.
He also noted there is increasing doubt in the recently minted head coach Billy Donovan.
A large portion of the Bulls’ operation has been about retaining LaVine. From trading for Nikola Vucevic at the deadline in 2020 to going out and getting DeMar DeRozan ahead of last year, the goal was to see what LaVine could do in a winning environment.
“I think everybody goes through ups and downs, just like every team does,” LaVine said per the report from Charania and Darnell Mayberry. “Obviously if we’re not winning games, not everybody’s going to be happy…It’s all glitter and show when you’re winning games. But when you’re losing games and you’re trying to do the same things it’s turmoil.”
The two-time All-Star finished the win over Miami with 21 points, seven assists, six rebounds, and one steal to just two turnovers leading the way with a game-high plus-21 plus-minus.
LaVine said before the game that, “Everybody has their right to their own opinion,” he is just trying to “keep his head down” and “help lead the team.
“I work on my game and try to help my team…That’s where I stand. I just try to take it day by day and evaluate how we’re doing.”
Frustration Has Been Brewing
There were reports that the Bulls were not fully sold on LaVine as a max player before last season leading to some doubt they would offer him the contract he ultimately receive.
But the initial word of possible tension between LaVine and DeRozan – which reports say is purely from an on-court standpoint – came from LaVar Ball, the father of injured point guard and impetus for the current downfall, Lonzo Ball.
The elder Ball told David Kaplan on ‘The ReKap’ during the summer.
He said LaVine wanted out citing his not wanting to play second fiddle to DeRozan who came in and took the reigns last year as part of the Bulls’ plan. But LaVine’s knee injury intensified the reliance on DeRozan and the latter responded in a situation that has continued to play out into this season.
But LaVine’s words may provide a glimpse into just what it is that has gone awry since he signed the largest deal in franchise history.
The Bulls were all about continuity this offseason, a risk that was always more likely to fail than succeed when looking back through recent NBA history. LaVine noting that the “turmoil” come as the team loses and is “doing the same things” could be a signal that is the issue.
They chose the same option at last year’s trade deadline and are 10 games below .500 at 23-33 since then.
Johnson has reported that they are unlikely to go with a full-nuclear option and blow up the roster but would be open to dealing should the situation call for it. That moment would appear to be upon us and, now, the only remaining question is how does vice president of basketball operations Arutras Karrnisovas navigate out of the corner he’s painted the Bulls into?