Bulls, Zach LaVine, Nikola Vucevic, DeMar DeRozan, Alex Caruso
Scotto: Ever since Billy Donovan benched him that game in Orlando earlier this year, I heard they spoke, and then things were better after that. It seemed like that situation was resolved. They’ve been using him more. He looks healthier, and he’s playing better. What’s the dynamic right now between Zach LaVine and Donovan?
Johnson: I’d answer that in a couple of ways. LaVine is a prideful person and a very confident competitor. That episode (getting benched in Orlando) stung him deeply. As you mentioned, he and Donovan did meet to talk about it. It was respectful in the sense that Zach made his feelings known very clearly to Donovan how much that stung him. He felt that, in his words, a player of his stature has earned the right to play through a bad shooting night. Billy explained it went beyond the shots and him not playing to the standard Donovan and his coaches were desiring. They both were privately and publicly strong-willed about it. They both explained themselves ad nauseam to us.
Zach doesn’t forget things like that. It doesn’t mean he shows up every day angry at Donovan or anything like that, but he had a high-profile incident with the previous head coach, Jim Boylen, where he was also pulled from a game in the first quarter of a home loss to Miami way back when. Those things sting Zach. He feels like he’s being singled out a little bit.
LaVine and Donovan are two of the more professional people I’ve been around. They come to work every day and try to make the team better. I know their relationship is professional. I’d just say Zach has never backed down from the fact that the incident stung him deeply, but as you mentioned, he’s playing better, and I know that there’s probably more optimism with the Bulls than the national picture has of this team.
Scotto: His name has come up in trade speculation, and I’ve reported that there are plenty of teams that, if he’s put on the market – and I preface that with the word “if” – he’s not yet. If he were to be put on the market, the Knicks, Lakers, Dallas, and Miami are certainly monitoring if he’ll become available or not. What’s interesting about that to me and other executives I’ve spoken to around the league is there would also be a bit of a question regarding, in their eyes, the health of his knee because if the Bulls just signed him and look to flip him that quickly, it almost raises your antenna a little bit.
Johnson: Zach and the Bulls have made it pretty clear from the jump that knee management plan was not about an unhealthy knee. It was literally just an acclimation process because he hadn’t played any five-on-five all offseason nor done his normal offseason routine. It was a knee management plan to let him get his legs under him. The numbers have bore that out. His splits in December compared to November are ridiculous. In December, he played like the two-time All-Star he’s been.
The knee is healthy, and the numbers are healthier. He looks more like himself of late, which is why you’re going to have some trade speculation between now and Feb. 9. I’d say, as of now, being around the team every day, having my antenna up, and talking to people around the league, I still believe what Arturas Karnisovas has said multiple times publicly. He wants to see this group have some continuity and grow together. They haven’t had a lot of it and won’t have a lot of it because of the Lonzo Ball situation.
A lot can happen between now and Feb. 9. Obviously, hypothetically speaking, a 10-game losing streak would certainly change some long-term thinking. Right now, I see LaVine drawing interest, so you never say never, but I’d be surprised if the Bulls move off him.