Zach LaVine as Bulls enter training camp: "This is the most excited I've been."

Coming off a summer where the Bulls acquired more talent and Zach LaVine acquired a gold medal, the Bulls All-Star guard is ready to work with the new look squad.
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later

Body

Razzmatazz and all that jazz, a town that won't let you down?

People who smile at you. Each time you roam, it's calling you home? Each time you leave tuggin' at your sleeve?

Is Chicago Zach LaVine's kind of town?

"The one thing that we know is we're committed to Zach," Bulls Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Arturas Karnisovas told reporters Monday for the opening of NBA training camps. "We want him to be in Chicago a very long time. I think (the) trade deadline and free agency moves kind of proved that. He has a great relationship with Billy (Donovan, coach), a good relationship with me. Can't wait to see how the players we added to the team are going to work together and gel. We really feel good about Zach and about this season."

Monday was the annual pre-camp media day for the Bulls and the NBA. It's a sanguine time for many teams, especially the Bulls this season with the roster makeover and the addition of top players like four-time All-Star DeMar DeRozan, Lonzo Ball after the trade for two-time All-Star Nikola Vucevic last March. With promising second year forward Patrick Williams, it provides the Bulls with—on paper, which is always a fragile place—their best starting lineup in at least a decade.

All five along with Karnisovas and Donovan were made available for media questions Monday afternoon. Training camp practices begin Tuesday with the first preseason game in a week. The NBA season back to 82 games begins Oct. 19. Sanguinity was the byword for the Bulls with the roster overhaul. Which left just LaVine's pending unrestricted free agency next summer as the biggest unanswered question.

Is Chicago Zach's kind of town?

Everyone will know for sure next summer, but it would seem the Bulls did all they could to persuade LaVine it should be.

The Bulls could have used their salary cap space this past summer to sign LaVine to a contract extension. But that would have precluded any serious or substantial roster additions, like that of DeRozan and Ball. Karnisovas has made it clear the team desires to reward and return LaVine. But they also know that as much as everyone is driven by finances, LaVine also has been by the opportunity to win bigger.

And thus far LaVine's teams—other than this summer's USA Basketball group—hasn't won much. LaVine never has played in an NBA playoff game in seven seasons, and with almost as many coaches. So the Bulls are wagering on court success will matter as much or more to LaVine as off court finances. It should be a winner, which is the direction the Bulls are betting on.

And which seems as impressive to LaVine as the Wrigley Building.

"I think you guys know I'm a team-first guy," said LaVine. "I'm excited with all the moves that were made and really looking forward to getting into camp and getting to know these guys and getting the season started because we all have a lot to prove.

"My plan is to tomorrow get ready for training camp, get ready for the season, and try and help these guys win just like everybody else," LaVine added. "I'm not worried about my contract right now. That will be a point and time in the future. And my agent I will sit down and discuss it, go from there. But right now it's about the Bulls and getting better tomorrow. Starting this thing off right, working hard, and getting forward with helping us win and just being involved with the team this year.''

Pressure then to succeed?

"Nah," LaVine corrected. "Pressure for us isn't going out there and playing basketball. Pressure is when a mom has to wake up and supply for her kids, so basketball isn't that much pressure."

It's obviously a big season for LaVine with his potential free agency, and for the Bulls with a new roster and fans back in the arena after a year and a half away because of the pandemic. LaVine in the past few seasons has pushed himself into the NBA elite discussions with an All-Star selection, averaging among the highest scorers in the NBA and winning a gold medal in August with USA Basketball. Which LaVine also said should be a helpful model for he and his new Big 3 partners, DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic.

Lonzo Ball, Nikola Vucevic, Zach LaVine, and DeMar DeRozan pose during Bulls Media Day.

Lonzo Ball, Nikola Vucevic, Zach LaVine, and DeMar DeRozan pose during Bulls Media Day.

"The Olympic experience was incredible just from a standpoint of being around a bunch of guys that are at the highest level on and off the court," said LaVine. "And then playing a role with a team that it was all about winning, and we were all at the top of our game and we all couldn't be the number one option. I think that experience definitely taught me something about what goes into winning and being part of a winning team at a very, very high level. Something I can bring back here and hopefully be a better leader going forward with trying to push us to be a playoff team. We had to find a role and help the team win."

The Bulls don't have quite that talent, but they could have some of the same issues with three players who have been All-Stars and average at least 20 points per game. You know, and one ball. But LaVine has seen it work, and he's anxious to bring that back to the Bulls.

"We've got a bunch of new guys, new faces, and bunch of talent," LaVine agreed. "We've got to get to know each other first, and I think that's where Billy (Donovan, coach) and a lot of guys, leaders of the team, are going to really decide how we're really going to play. But I know first and foremost we're going to have a commitment to going in every day and getting our work in and being a really hard-playing team. Obviously we're going to be exciting. We're going to be able to get up and down the floor with some athletic guys. But we've gotta see how it is first before we can put any names on them. I just know we're going to come in with our hardhats on and be ready to scrap. Numbers really shouldn't matter at the end of the day if we're getting wins because that means everybody's winning."

It's also why LaVine, less underrated now, also is so appreciated by the Bulls. Though a prolific scorer, he showed with the Olympic team a willingness to sacrifice scoring for team success. He always has said he'd do whatever it took to win, and this summer he showed it. It's why even at 26 the athletic 6-6 guard has emerged as a leader for these Bulls.

"We're all high-IQ guys, we all know what we do," said LaVine. "We're not going to try and change our games and not step on each other's feet because if we're not playing our games we're not ourselves. They brought us here to be ourselves, so we're going to go in there with that mindset and figure it out.

"Every year you get in the league is an accomplishment, and you go in there and don't take it for granted," said LaVine. "But this is the most excited I've been. Especially with the talent of the team that we have here, the support they've given me. I'm extremely happy about that, and I'm ready to hit the ground running and go out there and just get it going. There's an excitement around the city, but there's a bigger excitement around the team, as well, because we know we can do something.''

Zach LaVine doesn't want to let this town down.

Got a question for Sam?

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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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