Zach LaVine Keeps Perspective Amid Bulls' Woes

Often, it has been LaVine serving as the front man in confronting the Bulls' reality.

Cody Westerlund
February 20, 2020 - 11:20 pm
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CHICAGO (670 The Score) – In his sixth NBA season, Bulls guard Zach LaVine understands well that opposing players in the league don’t feel for him or his injury-plagued team amid their struggles.

“Hell no,” LaVine said with a laugh. “They waiting to play us, it seems like. So we got to take that as a challenge, because when guys come in here, they’re trying to get that win. We got to take it personally. We’re fighting. Everybody knows we’re undermanned right now, but nobody cares. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out here.”

The Bulls are mired in a disastrous third rebuilding season, with their 103-93 setback to the Hornets at the United Center on Thursday evening marking their season-worst seventh straight loss. They now sit at 19-37 with only a prayer of a chance to make the playoffs, their stated goal before the season. They're again in line for the all-too-familiar No. 7 draft pick, should the season have ended Thursday evening.

Accountability and answers have been few and far in between. As executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson has addressed the media in just one Bulls-related group scrum since training camp started and coach Jim Boylen waxes poetic about the importance of developing the 15th man on the roster, it has often been the 24-year-old LaVine serving as the front man for confronting the organization’s reality.

LaVine’s emotions are on full display for all to see, whether he's expressing despair on the bench late in a blowout loss or confusion over why Boylen would take a timeout so late in a game long decided.

LaVine publicly criticized Boylen when he felt Boylen singled him out with an unfair benching in November. He has been quick to take blame as the losses have piled up, and he freely admits when he believes coaching adjustments need to be made.

LaVine also doesn’t dance around topics or rely on old cliches. Asked what revved up the Bulls to start the second half strong when they trailed by 16 at halftime Thursday, he gave no illusion of a rah-rah moment.

“Obviously, we don’t want to go out there and lose by 40,” he said.

None of this is in LaVine’s job description. It’s simply a burden he has accepted.

So how does he both put on a good face and stay honest amid his frustration?

“I just understand the situation that we’re in,” LaVine said. “I’m a glass-half-full type guy. I think I say things how it is still, but like you said, yeah, I’m frustrated. I think everybody is. We’ve been losing, but I take pride in what I do on the court. Each and every day, I stick with my same routine and that keeps me going. I have individual goals. I have team goals. Obviously, I don’t think anybody is going to be perfect, but I think that’s what drives me. I keep my head high. If I can go out there and say I played as hard as I could and I did what I had to do, I’m not going to be perfect, but now I can re-evaluate after that. Like I said, I try to be me. I don’t try to be anybody else. Like I said, say it how it is, just let you guys know how I feel.”

Basketball life hasn’t been easy for LaVine. He has never been part of a winning team in the NBA, with his Timberwolves and Bulls teams compiling a 144-322 record (.309 winning percentage) since he was drafted.

It’s especially difficult now. With six key Bulls players sidelined – including starters in center Wendell Carter Jr., big man Lauri Markkanen and forward Otto Porter Jr. – LaVine has been asked to carry a herculean burden on the offensive end, whether it’s scoring himself or creating for less talented teammates.

Met by a second line of defense all evening Thursday, LaVine scored 19 points on 8-of-22 shooting against the Hornets. He felt he left 10 or more points on the board personally, taking responsibility for the 10-point loss.

Then he reiterated his confidence in his motley crew of teammates who dressed.

“If you watch the game, it’s tough when they’re a heavy nail (a defense that helps high on the floor) – they’re not leaving me,” said LaVine, who's averaging 25.2 points. “Even if I get by the first man, there’s another guy there. I got to make the right play and eventually in transition, we’ll start making those shots. I got to trust my guys. I see them practicing every day shooting them. We work on it. I try to be aggressive at times. Obviously, I got to go out there and score and try to be aggressive and force the action. But sometimes I can draw the double team and get us an open shot and that will get them going. Just trying to make the right play.”

That’s what LaVine intends to keep doing. He doesn’t want sympathy from anyone. He’s healthy enough physically and remains in a good place mentally.

“I’m good,” LaVine said. “I know what I got to go out there and do. I think it’s, we got to go out there and do our job. It shouldn’t matter what our record is. You got to look at it with the game at hand. Each game, you got to look at as an individual battle. You try to go day by day. At least that’s what I try to do. I can’t speak for everybody else, but I think that’s what makes it a little bit easier for me.

“I’ve done a lot of losing my whole career. I’ve been frustrated from the get-go. I want that to change.”

Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for 670TheScore.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.