Zach LaVine ready to take his game to the next level, excited for Billy Donovan's arrival
Zach LaVine talked NBA playoffs, the parts of his game he's currently working on, and his reaction to the Billy Donovan hiring.
Remind Me Later •
Zach LaVine spoke to the media on Thursday from Advocate Bulls Minicamp where he talked about multiple topics, including his excitement for the hiring of Billy Donovan.
Devin Booker was the star of the NBA bubble/campus seeding games, averaging more than 30 points for the undefeated Phoenix Suns. Did you know he was that good?
Denver's Jamal Murray has been the breakout star of the playoffs, averaging a Wilt-like 47.3 per game in a three-game stretch during the first round playoff series and now averaging 27 per game, second among the remaining players. Who knew?
Well, Zach LaVine did because he's been one of those guys, performing exceptionally well, if often out of sight.
Murray and Booker got their chances thanks to the new location.
LaVine hopes now his new coach, Billy Donovan, helps him step into the sunlight of acknowledged excellence. Sometimes all it takes is being noticed. Perhaps now with the experienced and respected Donovan, people will begin to notice LaVine and the Bulls. It's difficult to be seen when the lights are off.
"Devin Booker, Jamal Murray, these guys have been doing this for the last couple of years," LaVine was saying Thursday in a Zoom media conference after their Bulls minicamp session at the Advocate Center. "I just think now that the national media has been able to see it... I put myself in that category (averaging 25.5 per game this season, one fewer than Booker and seven more than Murray). I feel like I've been doing really good these last couple of years. But you might just not have been able to see it or get those opportunities (because of the Bulls poor record). I'm happy to see my peers do good. Obviously, I wish I had that opportunity as well. So it just makes me work a lot harder so I can get on that stage to prove I'm on that level and compete at that level as well."
The Bulls and new chief basketball executive Arturas Karnisovas believe they took a big step toward that level this week with the hiring of former Oklahoma City Thunder coach Billy Donovan. LaVine, who said he spoke with former coach Jim Boylen following his dismissal, said he immediately asked Karnisovas for Donovan's telephone number.
"I look at myself as someone who is extremely professional," said LaVine, the Bulls leading scorer. "I reached out to (Boylen), gave him a thank you and told him I hope he lands on his feet. Everything was good on the phone. At the end of the day, regardless of whatever the media narrative is, it's tough when people get fired because this is their livelihood. I definitely just wanted to reach out to him and say a few words.
"When you want to be great, you want to be coached extremely well," LaVine added. "I gave (Donovan) a text right when I heard the news. I told him hurry to get after it. I'm extremely excited. I think the whole organization is. Somebody with his track record, not just in the NBA but in college as well. A whole ton of players who are proven saying how great of a guy he is and how good of a coach he is. It was unexpected. It was something that I think a lot of people didn't see coming. I think it just shows what Arturas and Marc (GM Eversley) are bringing to the table on uplifting this franchise right now. We're definitely excited and just ready to get after it. We're in the minicamp right now. We haven't seen each other or talked to each other for awhile. So definitely being a little competitive, being able to talk and play a little bit. Also having those conversations of being ready to be ready for next year and really having something to go after.
"At the end of the day, the players are the ones who are playing," LaVine did point out. "You can't always divert blame. Injuries happen in sports. It's gotta be next man up. I'm always on the side of the players' (responsibility) because we're the ones playing the games. Coaches put us in position to get us better and help us win games. But the players are the ones out there. It's a collective unit. As a player you always have to look at yourself first."
LaVine says he's doing that and promises to return for next season even better.
"I've been working out a lot, obviously, and playmaking has been a big one, working on my passes and my playmaking ability," LaVine said. "Obviously, I've been able to get to the cup and obviously provide for myself. But now look for others. I think that can be the next step in my game. If I'm a much better playmaker and looking to do that a lot better, I think that can take my game (and team) to another level."
Like the shooting point guards who have been exceptional in these playoffs, like Booker, Murray, Donovan Mitchell, Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard and the point forwards like Luka Doncic, Jayson Tatum, and, of course, LeBron.
That next step for LaVine into the elite company also comes with the Bulls finally experiencing competition.
The Bulls were inequitably left out of the Orlando games when the NBA arbitrarily decided 22 teams were enough for a league conclusion. Which gave Booker and the Suns an opportunity the Bulls didn't get despite similar underachieving regular seasons. Apparently realizing the injustice done to those eight teams considering the NBA may not play again until into 2021, the league and players association agreed to similarly ensconced playing arenas for those teams, including the Bulls. The Bulls players were virus tested daily last week and then went to a downtown hotel for quarantine for two days before beginning scrimmages Wednesday. "I made it through (the quarantine)," LaVine said with a laugh. "A bunch of video games, Netflix. I talked to my fiancé a lot. Outside of that, it's been really good being able to get back to some competitive stuff. We've been working out on our own. But it hasn't been any real structure to it. Getting your own workouts in or get a trainer or whatever. Getting back with a group of guys, being able to talk a little mess, get some competitiveness and some contact; it's been fun. Guys are happy to be in the gym. From what I've seen, it's been a really positive vibe we haven't felt in a long time, a lot of positive energy. Lauri (Markkanen) was knocking down a lot of shots today, Chandler (Hutchison) is healthy, Otto (Porter) is healthy. Otto is doing his thing, lot of stepbacks. Really happy to see the team healthy again; we haven't see that in awhile."
What LaVine has seen is a lot of coaches, Donovan being his sixth in seven NBA years. He's ready for some stability as are the Bulls. He's hopeful it's Donovan.
"It's hard to have a coach and then go to another one and you're in different offenses and philosophies," LaVine pointed out. "I've heard he's very personable, somebody who's gonna coach and coach the right way. I've heard he's not a beat-around-the-bush guy. And he's been a father to some guys. I don't know Joakim Noah personally, but I've heard him through interviews say how (Donovan's) been more than a coach to him. That carries weight. Especially from a guy like that who's very respected in the league. And being voted co-coach of the year. Not by the media, but by your peers."
LaVine also said he was encouraged when reporters informed him of Donovan's welcome of all aspects of a player's offensive game. And not necessarily just long shots.
"I feel like it's going to be a lot better for guys, especially for me, if you have that part of your game now and you can use all your tools," said LaVine. "Instead of almost playing with one hand behind your back and if you get to the midrange you're not supposed to shoot a shot that's open. I'm not saying that we should be taking strictly midrange jumpers. I know he doesn't think that, either. But if it's a good shot, you should take it and you shouldn't feel bad about it.
"When a coach is straight up with you I'm fine with that," said LaVine. "From what I've heard about Billy Donovan he's a straight up coach who's going to tell you how it is whether you are doing good or bad. I'm excited to see how it works out."
Join the club.
Got a question for Sam?
Submit your question to Sam at firstname.lastname@example.org
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.