With All-Star guard Zach LaVine coming back to a sinking ship, it’s possible the Chicago Bulls future could be negatively impacted by his return.
And at 26-39, now four games back of the 10th seed and final play-in spot, why would they want him back?
The roller-coaster 2020-2021 season in the Windy City continues.
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LaVine Talks Quarantine, Return
For the first time since testing positive for COVID-19, Zach LaVine spoke to the media on Wednesday.
The All-Star guard told reporters (via NBC Sports) that his quarantined absence was unlike your typical injury:
Earlier in the season, it was easier for me to fight through an ankle injury. I had a Grade 2 ankle sprain. I could play through that. This (COVID-19) is something I couldn’t fight and try to play through. That’s what kind of hurt me the most.
Prior to his 11-game absence, LaVine had missed just one game this season due to the aforementioned ankle sprain.
Even with the playoffs nearly a non-reality, he’s urging his teammates to focus on the now:
Obviously the games are stacked up against you but from what I’ve been telling guys you can’t worry about that. Let’s just go out there and take care of our job,” LaVine said. “If we go out there and take care of the wins, let the pieces fall where they may. But you can’t dwell and depend on other teams. We’ve got to take care of our business.
Chicago went a likely damming 4-7 in LaVine’s absence, with two of those losses also coming without Nikola Vucevic.
They’re 26-39, and well outside the play-in tournament. But that won’t keep LaVine from going out and competing:
This is the predicament that we put ourselves in. There’s nobody really but to blame but us. We have to finish out the season strong,” LaVine said. “It’s unfortunate, but I’m not somebody to close the door on something that’s not officially over. I’m going to try to fight for everything that I have.
It’s true, the Bulls aren’t mathematically eliminated from the postseason just yet. But no one’s capable of ignoring the writing on the wall that’s shaped into a mural of bad news.
At some point, both Zach Lavine and the Chicago front office have to shift their attention to the long-term.
Looking Ahead to the Draft
Fans will no doubt recall that this year’s first-round pick is owed to the Orlando Magic as a part of the Chicago Bulls’ trade deadline blockbuster for Nikola Vucevic…
…as long as it doesn’t fall within the top four.
Protections on draft picks are designed for almost this exact circumstance, kind of. No one in 1996 could have predicted that players could randomly miss weeks at a time due to the ongoing pandemic.
Still, it’s been an absolute crapshoot for Chicago since the deadline, with their best player entered into the league’s health and safety protocol and missing 11 games.
That being said, ahead of the Bulls’ matchup with the Charlotte Hornets on Thursday, they’ve got a collective 31.9 percent chance at their first-round pick landing in the top four.
To have LaVine back on the floor, and presumably now winning more games, puts that in jeopardy.
And with two All-Stars in-house, money is going to get tight real soon in Chicago, reducing the opportunities and avenues to upgrade the roster.
Zach LaVine is back and that’s good for the Chicago Bulls right now.
But what about later?
What if LaVine and the front office fail to come to terms on an extension this offseason, as has been widely reported, and he inevitably departs Chicago?
The Bulls would have very little to show in that situation.
And any finger-pointing would be traced back almost exclusively to this moment.
Updated Bulls Playoff Odds
After their latest loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, the Chicago Bulls drop to 26-39.
That’s good for the 12th seed in the Eastern Conference, and four games back of the 10th seed Washington Wizards.
Five Thirty Eight has the Bulls’ playoff chances at less than one percent.
Elsewhere, Tankathon.com has Chicago’s remaining schedule as the 11th most difficult in the entire NBA.
So the odds are stacked against the Chicago Bulls, who are 4-6 in their last 10.
Seven games to go.