Despite his first All-Star season where he put up his best individual statistics as a pro, Zach LaVine will miss the NBA playoffs for the seventh straight time in his career. But the Bulls scoring leader is adamant he, and his teammates, can improve over the offseason.
Zach LaVine had all the numbers this season but one.
He averaged 27.4 per game, his career best and seventh in the NBA. He established career-highs in rebounding at five, assists at 4.9 and three-point shooting at 41.9 percent and 50.7 percent overall. Even though his free throw shooting denied him a place in the elite 50/40/90 club, he shot a career best 84.9 percent.
But the biggest number remained at zero, the number of playoff games LaVine will have played in after seven years and 411 games in the NBA.
To LaVine, anymore, it's the only number that matters.
"We were a playoff team, we competed with the best teams," LaVine reiterated Monday in ending season comments with media, almost as if he still could not believe it. "We didn't do the certain things throughout the games to win us the games. I think if we would've just done that - obviously, a lot easier said than done - we wouldn't be sitting here at exit interviews. This is the best team I've played on. It's frustrating because of the talent we had and the season could have went the way we wanted it to.
"I'm not upset or spiteful about things that happened," LaVine insisted. "I just know that we have to work on things and get better at them. We are a good team, and this season made us better. We need to improve on things, our shortcomings, our lulls throughout the game, our aggressiveness, our attention to detail. It wasn't the team or a talent-wise thing with us. We're extremely talented."
Zach LaVine's full end-of-season press conference with the Chicago media.
They actually are, and really even more so with the midseason trade for All-Star Nikola Vucevic.
"Obviously with the trade, it made us a lot better," LaVine agreed. "I loved it. I love it here in Chicago. I try to let my game do the talking for me, but also try to worry about the things I haven't accomplished yet, like winning. This year was great, but also frustrating at the same time. A lot of bright spots ahead. I'm very excited for the future."
LaVine's future also is a pertinent question for the Bulls.
The high scoring 6-5 shooting guard is going into the final season of his contract, one the Bulls matched from a Sacramento Kings offer in 2018. The Bulls can offer LaVine an extension this summer, but it would use their salary cap room. And it would be substantially less than LaVine could make if he waits until he becomes a free agent after next season. Then he'd be able to sign anywhere, though in a summer that could have a large class of All-Star free agents.
LaVine, similar to the other Bulls players, said it was too soon to discuss specifics regarding contracts.
"I try to let my performance on the court dictate what I get paid," said the 26-year-old. "Everybody wants to get paid what they're worth. When my time comes, I definitely will get that. I think with different situations, different people taking less money or taking the max, it's a business at the end of the day. I definitely want what I deserve and whatever that is I'll have it coming to me."
For now, and at least next season, it's about that elusive playoff goal.
Zach LaVine averaged career-highs across the board in addition to earning his first All-Star selection.
Coming into these playoffs, LaVine is 23rd all time in the most unenviable of statistics, most games without being in the playoffs. If the Wizards now in the play-in tournament make the playoffs, LaVine will start next season as the active player with the longest non-playoff streak. Elfrid Payton and Julius Randle ahead of LaVine will be in the playoffs with the Knicks. Alex Len, the current active leader, plays for Washington. Only Geoff Petrie, all time, has a scoring average higher than LaVine's among the top 20 players in games without making the playoffs. LaVine was certain that streak would end this season.
Wait 'til next season.
"Over the last couple of years, it's not just this year, I've had a lot of big moments," said LaVine, who made his first All-Star game this year and joined the all-league conversation for the first time. "A lot of fun times out there and a lot of big games. I'm proud of my development each year. I look forward to the challenge of getting better even this year for next year. I'm already planning for that now.
"As long as I keep taking those steps and growing as a player and a person, that's all I can ask for individually," LaVine said. "If I'm doing everything in my power to help the team and better myself, I did my job. I think I took that step this year on improving. A lot of people over the last three years thought, ‘OK, Zach had a great year, this is what he is.' Or, ‘Zach did it again, this is what he is.' I'm going to keep going. I have a lot more room to grow and I'm going to push my talents to the limit. I still have to become a better two-way player. I can become a better leader. Mentally, I want to be a lot stronger as well. So those things are definitely going to be in the forefront of my training this summer."
LaVine said working on stamina will help his desire to excel defensively as well as offensively. He's said he's already invited teammates, especially Coby White and Patrick Williams, to come to the West Coast to work out with him this summer. And LaVine says he's grateful to play for Billy Donovan.
Zach LaVine smiles after hitting a clutch shot in a victory over the Sacramento Kings.
"Great guy," said LaVine. "We've built a really good relationship and I'm really excited to work with him again next year and many years to come, hopefully. It's always good when you meet somebody and they invest into you and they give you support, and that's what he's done with me. He's a true leader. He can really speak to the team and bring everybody together. I think that's something we all can learn from.
"We lost a lot of games that we shouldn't have lost," LaVine noted. "But a lot of teams say that. We were sitting at ninth, eighth, the whole season. We went through a tough stretch. And me not being able to be out there to help (missing 11 games with Covid) really hurt. So bad timing, bad luck, whatever you want to call it, I wouldn't blame the season on that. When I was playing, there was a lot of games we could have won when I was there and I could have done better. But I definitely think during that 11-game stretch, I could have helped out a lot. And who knows? We might not be here talking. But we are. And that's what happens."