Zach LaVine addresses the Bulls not moving forward with the season, the nation's fight for change in social equality, and more during his end-of-season conference call held Friday afternoon.
Zach LaVine's NBA career has been exciting, if not ultimately rewarding. Other than financially. Zach's won multiple All-Star showcase slam dunk contests and has been one of the NBA's most improved players, more than doubling his scoring average since his rookie season to become among the elite points producers in the NBA at more than 25 points per game.
But sometimes an action is stronger than words like booooo. Especially when it comes from your ultimate employer, the NBA.
"I mean it sucks," LaVine Friday admitted about the NBA's decision to end the Bulls season as 22 teams move on to close the regular season and participate in playoffs. "It's a weird time, especially with everything that's going on right now. But it's upsetting, too. We weren't even good enough to get into the play-in game. So it's upsetting and it just shows that we have to do a lot of things differently to get ourselves that recognition to get to that spot.''
It is a humiliating development for the franchise and the Bulls players, particularly someone like LaVine who has played well enough to be an All Star while now suffering the indignity of the NBA's message of irrelevance to Bulls players.
"I can't speak for other people," LaVine said on the conference call arranged by the Bulls. "I'm just ready to become a winning team and a winning player. It's my sixth year and I still haven't gotten to the playoffs. If you want to put it in real terms, I haven't played a really meaningful basketball game. Every game in the NBA is meaningful. But once the playoffs come that's when you compete for championships. So we haven't had an opportunity to do that; I haven't. So I'm just continuing, ready to progress my career and get better and try to reach that next step."
The Bulls hope to do that with a new management team headed by former Denver Nuggets executive Arturas Karnisovas. The new executive team has communicated with players by video only because of the COVID-19 virus and national safeguard restrictions. Which has only made the NBA's arbitrary decision about admitting 22 teams to its play-in tournament and post season even more potentially damaging to the Bulls. LaVine has a full scale workout complex at his home near Seattle. But he also knows with the Bulls players potentially idled for nine to 10 months until the next NBA season supposedly will resume in late December, it will be difficult for Bulls players to then compete on a so called level playing field against teams who have had a summer of intense competition.
"That 10 months is going to be a long, long period of time," LaVine admitted. "So you gotta stay in shape. I think I do a really good job of that. Even with what happened in the decision of us not going to the little play-in tournament in Orlando. I was working out every day. I was waking up at 9 o'clock, getting my lifts in, making sure my cardio's right. Obviously, you won't be in basketball shape. But I was going to get my workout in to be able to shoot 200, 300 shots a night. I was ready to hit the ground running, pick right back up where I was. Obviously, you have to have an offseason to let your body and your mind rest. Just for injury prevention and just your own general wellness. And then pick it back up again. I'm glad they gave us a start date at least to where we can figure out when to start going again and get back into shape or somewhat in shape."
It's little consolation because it's just human nature — if not professional basketball reality — to rest and get out of shape when you have so much time off. Especially with players left on their own outside team facilities without team coordination. Most of the Bulls players have dispersed around the country. And while LaVine credited the new executives for maintaining excellent communication and seeking advise and consent about the team, LaVine acknowledged there's still virus concerns that have kept everyone apart. There have been suggestions the NBA might stage some events or practices for the Eliminated Eight. Though the health issues would seem to be a greater concern since it would be outside the safe area the NBA is attempting to set up in Orlando for the 22 teams. And even that worries some players.
"As basketball players, that's (playing) our job," LaVine acknowledged. "We want to play. I think the main concern – and I think it still is a concern with the players that are going down there – is it safe? People are in different situations. Some have families, some have wives, girlfriends, different things like that. I'm a big family person. I see my parents and my now-fiancee every day. It's just concerning on if we do go down there, do we have to be quarantined from our family? What happens if somebody gets it? Can you bring it back and make sure that your family feels safe? Does family come with you? I think those were more of the general questions. It wasn't anything about basketball. Because that's the thing that we understand how to do. With COVID, that's unknown."
So would the NBA provide even less security and heath care for the players from those eight teams? After all, it seems unlikely they'll all get protective bubbles like the Favored 22.
It certainly has to be frustrating for a player like LaVine who has done so much to improve and become an elite NBA talent with a commitment to team success.
"I think it starts with us as players," LaVine said in deferring questions about coach or management responsibility for the record. "We're the ones on the court. Obviously, they're going to go out there and do their job and do the best they can and work their butt off. But we have to continue to go out there and grow as well. We can't continue to make the same mistakes. We have to change our identity and how we're looked at as a team to become a winning culture. We had high expectations for this year coming into the year and it wasn't anything like that. I think we competed extremely well. I think we're one of the hardest playing teams in the NBA. But you need that W. We've got to get better.
LaVine in about 20 minutes with media addressed other issues:
Coach Jim Boylen's future: "I'm going to keep saying the same thing that I always have. It's not for me to judge somebody. I think he goes out there and does his best. I don't think anyone in this organization or the NBA goes out there and tries to fail. Sometimes it's out of your power, your win-loss record or what happens in games. I know for a fact he tries, he's does his best, and as a player that's all you can ask for sometimes. As a player I try to go out there, follow the lead, go out there and do my job, and decisions on things like that I leave that up to higher management. That's not my role in the organization. I think you knew I was going to answer that correctly.''
The national unrest in the wake of the murder in Minneapolis: "This has been going on for a long time. I think the video cameras shed light on a lot of things, what's been going on with the world and police and different things like that. But I think now that we're starting to get this platform for athletes and entertainers to use our platform for good. There's going to have to be some type of movement, and maybe it might not be this generation; it might be the next. But it can't continue to be this way. It's not right. So just being on that stance and just being aware. Educating myself. I spoke in Seattle at a rally (Thursday) with a lot of pros and I encouraged them to go vote. I can stick myself out there. I haven't voted before. And that's not doing my part in the community. So go out there and not just vote for presidency, but things in your own community because everything that you vote for can make a change and put those people who are in power to hear your voice and help make that change. I'm trying to educate myself now more on the politics and what goes on and how things are voted. Just taking action in my own community and trying to do my part is the reason why I'm moving forward with that. Educating yourself, making sure that we're all together. Because what's going on isn't right."
Being biracial: "I come from a household where my dad is black and my mom is white. I've seen it on both sides to where people obviously look at my dad differently. Even people of color look at my dad different in situations because he's with a white woman. White men and white women look at my mom differently because she's with a black man. I just don't want this to become a race thing. It's terrible to say that, but growing up you have to know what's right and wrong. I was taught that it's OK because it's how I grew up. I just wanted to let people know it's on both sides. You've got to go out there as parents and as people who teach this younger generation and teach them the right thing. Everything right now is being so magnified that you could have a stance on one side or another when really you need to just understand what's going on and not have a racial bias. We're all one. We're in this together. This affects everybody. I think there are a lot of things that need to be changed. But if we come together, I think we can all do that."