The good vibes were fun while they lasted. Another night on the wrong side of a history-making performance has left the Chicago Bulls right back at square one in terms of sorting through issues with consistency and questions about the team’s chemistry.
A reported locker room blow-up aimed at guard Zach LaVine resulted in a three-game win streak and seemingly smoothed things over internally.
But the Bulls have gone 2-3 since then with all three losses being of the “bad” variety.
LaVine, who has meanwhile begun to perform more like his usual self, has remained frustrated to some degree with how things are being done at the moment. Following up on a report from The Athletic’s Shams Charania and Darnell Mayberry noted he was “not seeing eye to eye” with the front office, one team insider has detailed just where LaVine’s current gripes lie.
LaVine Wants to Close
“The element of Zach knowing this is tilting towards DeMar [DeRozan]’s team is very much in play,” K.C. Johnson said on the ‘Bulls Talk Podcast’ on January 2. “It has tilted…And I’ve sourced out that Zach privately has questioned his role, standing amongst the franchise at times.”
Johnson wrote that he would like to see a trade from the Bulls this season but detailed the pros and cons of moving any of DeRozan, LaVine, or Nikola Vucevic.
LaVine’s situation is the most complicated from the Bulls’ perspective.
“At 27, LaVine also represents the Bulls’ best bridge piece between the current win-now mentality and need to develop the younger stable of players,” Johnson explained. “But how long will LaVine be content playing the second option to DeRozan? Sources said LaVine has questioned his role internally at times.”
This continues a storyline that we saw develop over the summer that began with LaVar Ball, father of LaVine’s teammate Lonzo Ball, detailing the two-time All-Star’s dissatisfaction with playing second-fiddle to DeRozan.
The outspoken Ball’s theory was later confirmed by NBA reporter Marc Stein as something league circles believed.
All of that was before LaVine signed his five-year, $215 million contract, though.
“Chicago’s my home,” LaVine said after signing. “I’ve been here for five years and over the last 2-3, [we’ve] built something. And being able to come back as a cornerstone piece and allowing them to get some of my insight, some of my input, and pretty much constructing the roster to help me and to help us win was really big for me.”
Johnson goes on to say that the issues between LaVine and DeRozan are purely from a basketball standpoint.
LaVine even called the duo the best twosome in the league at one point last season.
LaVine’s Unwavering Confidence
Johnson goes on to say that the issues between LaVine and DeRozan are purely from a basketball standpoint and not personal. LaVine even called the duo the best twosome in the league at one point last season.
“Zach’s a professional,” Johnson said citing LaVine’s understanding of how good DeRozan is. “He’s a team player. But he’s got a lot of confidence.”
LaVine’s confidence was on full display when discussing his new contract saying he did not feel any additional pressure to perform since he always holds himself to a high standard. To his credit, he has not changed his tone toward himself or the team in the face of all this adversity.
Still, in the Bulls’ most recent late-game situations, it has still been DeRozan getting the ball.
“You give a guy like [DeRozan] the ball at the end of a game, you’re happy with the shot that he gets,’’ LaVine said, per Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times. “That’s just the reality of it. But if I get that opportunity, I’m still Zach. I’m going to shoot the ball confidently and think that I’m going to win the game or make the right play for my team.’’
The Bulls are 7-13 in clutch games this season (defined as games within five points in the final five minutes) and DeRozan’s numbers aren’t on the same absurd level as last season.
He has still been more efficient in the clutch than LaVine despite their similar shot volume.
Making the Right Play
“We have to start figuring out how we can get some different actions in those situations,’’ LaVine said. “But I just want to win.’’
Losing amplifies issues, though, much in the same way that winning conceals them and time heals all wounds. The Bulls aren’t doing enough winning and, with the trade deadline fast approaching at just over one month away, they don’t have much time either.