CHICAGO (AP) — The Chicago Bulls plan to debut guard Zach LaVine just in time for his bobblehead night.
LaVine, who was acquired in a draft-day trade that sent Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves, is expected to play Saturday when the Bulls host the Pistons.
His debut comes 11 months after he had surgery on a torn ACL in his left knee. It also falls on the same night the Bulls plan to give away LaVine’s likeness to fans.
“Is it really?” LaVine said when he learned about the giveaway. “Oh wow. I do get to play a game before the bobble comes back. The PR people are probably happy.”
The rest of the organization is pretty pleased, too.
LaVine averaged 18.9 points per game for Minnesota last season. He hasn’t played since he tore his ACL during a Feb. 3 game against Detroit.
The 22-year-old had surgery on Feb. 14 and was traded to Chicago along with Kris Dunn and the pick used to select first-rounder Lauri Markkanen.
Thanks to a tireless rehab regimen, LaVine is ready to get back on the court for the team’s final 40 games. His return should give the Bulls’ front office a lengthy enough look at a player who is set to become a restricted free agent after the season ends.
John Paxson, Chicago’s executive vice president of basketball operations, said Tuesday that the team initially intends to limit LaVine to 20 minutes per game to ease him back into the rotation.
Paxson said the team hasn’t decided whether LaVine will start or come off the bench. Chicago won’t play LaVine in the second game of consecutive contests on Feb. 9-10 for precautionary reasons, Paxson said.
Paxson said LaVine will play 20 minutes a game to start. Said the Bulls are taking a "conservative" approach and won't play the one back to back before the All Star break
— Vincent Goodwill (@VinceGoodwill) January 9, 2018
“This is the continuation and ending of his rehab,” he said. “That’s how we’re looking at it. We’re going to continue a conservative approach with him. He has done everything at such a top level getting back ready to play. And I know he’s really anxious to.”
Though he possibly could have returned Wednesday, when the Bulls visit the New York Knicks, LaVine’s representatives and the Bulls made the determination at a Monday meeting to wait a few more days.
After returning to practice in late November and undergoing a training camp-like session through early January, LaVine said he’s ready for the next step in his return. He also understands why they team intends to be cautious with him at first.
“I’m OK with everything,” LaVine said. “I’ve got to be OK with that. That’s where you start, I know it’s not going to stay there. It’s just part of getting back. Even though I’m back, it’s the last part of me getting back with the little bit of restriction.
“I know how to play, I know the way I want to play. I know it’s going to take a little time to get the rhythm back. But regardless I think I can do some things.”
Coach Fred Hoiberg is excited to insert LaVine into the team’s up-tempo style of offense. LaVine shot 46 percent from the field and 39 percent of his 3-point tries last season. After a slow start offensively, Chicago has averaged 109.6 points per game over its last 18 contests.
“(LaVine) does fit with how we are playing right now, pace has been really good,” Hoiberg said. “Really the last month of the season, the guys are starting to understand and get out and run and get things accomplished early in the possession, and Zach certainly fits into that as well, so he’s a guy who can shoot it – you have a lot of plays to get him shots coming off screens. I think he’ll be really good.”