New Bulls guard Garrett Temple met with the media via Zoom on Sunday morning, where he gave high praise to his new teammate Zach LaVine. Also speaking with the media on Sunday, LaVine gave insight about Coby White playing point guard and having a few practices under his belt with Coach Billy Donovan.
Garrett Temple knows talent when he sees it.
The veteran Bulls free agent guard has played with Tracy McGrady, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, John Wall, Bradley Beal and DeMarcus Cousins. Sometimes you can't fully describe it, but you know.
There's a famous 1964 Supreme Court case on obscenity about which Justice Potter Stewart couldn't detail examples, but wrote, "I know it when I see it." You know, like sporting greatness.
Temple has played against several current Bulls during recent stops in Brooklyn, Memphis, Sacramento, Los Angeles and Washington. So Temple said he was excited when Bulls coach Billy Donovan contacted him about signing with the Bulls.
"When he called and told me they were interested, it immediately became appealing from that regard," Temple told reporters Sunday morning by video from his Chicago hotel where he remains in quarantine as he recovers from a case of Covid-19 and expects to rejoin the team later this week. "I loved the roster. I love Wendell Carter. I've known Tomas (Satoransky) since when he came to D.C. And obviously I know Otto (Porter Jr.) from playing (with the Wizards 2012-16). Thad (Young) is a great vet in this league that can really still play."
"I think Zach," Temple declared, "is a budding superstar in his league."
Zach LaVine dribbling up the floor against Garrett Temple in 2018.
You know, just what the Bulls have been looking for.
The difference in the NBA between competence and excellence generally is considered to be the presence of an aspirational star, like Duncan, Manu, McGrady or Wall pre-injury.
Can Zach be that guy for the Bulls? We've asked it before.
This may be the season when we find out.
There's perhaps no more polarizing sports figure in Chicago than Zach LaVine. He's at the game's elite level statistically, averaging more than 25 points per game last season, among the highest season averages in franchise history with excellent shooting range and spectacular winning performances, like 13 three pointers in Charlotte when he ran back with the ball to make a winning three and 47 points in a four-overtime classic that was one of the most famous NBA games of the 2018-19 season. LaVine scored at least 40 points in four of his last 17 games last season. Yet, community frustration continued to mount with the team 87 games below .500 the last three seasons. Though there certainly were other factors which resulted in a massive coaching and management shakeup.
Zach LaVine drained a career-high 13 three pointers against Charlotte last season.
So despite LaVine being by far the team's most prolific producer, there has been media speculation about LaVine being traded, social media accusations about hollow statistics that don't lead to success. With two years remaining on his contract at an economical rate for an NBA with his production, LaVine's value to other teams is the most on the roster.
But just two years remaining also adds pressure to the new management team about whether to offer an extension or allow LaVine to eventually become a free agent. LaVine has said he likes the team, the city and especially the new apparent stability. Which makes this perhaps a seminal season for both management and LaVine. Is he that player Temple believes is destined for greatness? Though greatness involves more than one player. After all, Michael Jordan still has no other titles than those with Scottie Pippen. LeBron needed Dwyane Wade and now Anthony Davis.
Could the Zach and Coby White pairing we've speculated so much about evolve into that elite tandem?
It does appear White has matured well beyond just one offseason. Often cautious much of last season, the irrepressible North Carolinian has been perhaps the most outspoken player in camp in virtually demanding a leadership role, teammates generally have agreed. Scrimmages began Sunday. Donovan essentially designated White lead ball handler, though White's scoring will remain his metier. High scoring guard duos have led to success in this NBA, if not necessarily titles because of LeBron.
"Obviously we're two very explosive scoring guards and we can both take over ballhandling duties," LaVine said from practice Sunday. "There isn't a set (where) he's the one, he's the two. I think Coby will be the primary ballhandler. But the system isn't to just get a ball to somebody at the top and let 'em sit out there. Coby's going into his second year, I think I know what I bring to the table. It's something that we have to work on; we have to prove it to these other teams. I think at the end of the day it will work with winning, and we have to go out there and do that."
Of course success changes opinions about everyone. Though it's just Zach's luck that as the Bulls have a chance to surprise there's no All-Star game in this shortened 72-game season.
LaVine, 25, is one of the true marvels of the NBA. That the 6-6 guard has been anchored to rebuilding teams his entire NBA career after one year at UCLA shouldn't be his burden. Though because of that few tend to acknowledge his seemingly implausible recovery from ACL surgery to regain his previous slam dunk champion athleticism. It speaks to a substantial work ethic to be celebrated and applauded.
LaVine still recovering from the February 2017 tear eased back for 24 games with the Bulls in 2017-18 following the draft day trade for Jimmy Butler. Since then LaVine has been among the top scorers in the NBA. While the Bulls only have been among the top selectors in the NBA draft.
LaVine is perhaps the most convivial and welcoming player on the team. He even expressed regret again Sunday that media members cannot communicate in person this season. His locker stall has been the focus of media post game after just about every game last season because of his performance and welcoming nature. Though the Bulls have had high quality character players in recent years, many didn't care for the post game questions routine, especially after so many losses. LaVine as the lead scorer understood his responsibility even as he'd often rather dissent at times. He had everyone's back.
Zach LaVine's Training Camp Press Conference from this past Sunday.
"I hear a lot of stuff," LaVine acknowledged. "I let a lot of things drive me. But at the end of the day, I know what I bring to the table. I'm one of the hardest working guys. (You're not) given certain things because of your record. But if you want to be a great player you have to lead your team to wins and I want to do that. They say empty stats or whatever it is. I'm a team player. I'll do whatever I gotta to win. If that's going out there and I have to try to go get 30 or if I gotta go try and defend the best player or get 10 assists or whatever it is, at the end of the day I want to win. So I want to continue to prove that. I know what I bring to the table. I just want to keep climbing that ladder.
"I don't work to be a second, third fiddle guy," said LaVine when apprised of Temple's compliment. "You can get by on cutting work a little bit. I work my body to exhaustion and I'm gonna do that until the basketball stops dribbling for me. I want to be great at all aspects of my game, continue to work on my defense, my playmaking and getting better at the things I do offensively as well."
Ah, defense, which has become the slur often aimed at LaVine. Not that there are many great scorers in the NBA who also defend. LeBron, for example, defends well in circumstances. But certainly at his age he spends most of the game attached to one of the lesser scorers. James Harden is an historically poor defender. So is Russell Westbrook, a former MVP. It's a longer list that many will admit, but it's also an easy accusation even as good defense generally is a team concept.
Though Donovan in brief views has commended LaVine's defensive effort and commitment.
"He's a great team guy; obviously very gifted and talented," said Donovan. "He's had a challenging career. I think I'm his sixth coach he's had since he's been in the NBA. That's an awful lot to deal with. But he's always kept a positive outlook and is very open minded about things. I've enjoyed him a lot. He's a really good person. He cares deeply about the organization, his teammates and wanting to play well. And finding ways within himself in which he can help the group win and be better."
Zach LaVine at the Bulls Minicamp that took place this past September.
Which LaVine says will help thanks to Donovan. Sure, it's training camp and everyone is undefeated and everyone is an All-Star and it's Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. But Bulls players do seem to be trying to suppress a vibe, that they're going to be better than many believe. But since they said that before they'll try to show ‘em first this time.
"He's been great, very vocal, very straight up," LaVine said about Donovan. "Bringing a winning attitude, talking to us about winning habits and making sure the practices are competitive. I played against him over the last couple of years. (He promotes) a lot of motion offense. Obviously, different pieces with his former teams. But still the same base of a lot of movement, a lot of cuts, playing fast, getting up and down the floor, not have to try to set up plays if you have these athletes. Just go out and get a good shot. But cutting and obviously getting better opportunities by catch and shoot; it's been good.
"I don't like giving up too many of the secrets we have," LaVine said when asked about the team's defensive plans. "We're not blitzing every play anymore, so that's definitely keeping us in a little better condition throughout the game."
Then he laughed. They're all smiling now. Garrett Temple is among those who believe if you keep watching LaVine you'll be smiling. Preseason games begin later this week.