Zach LaVine

Zach LaVine not sweating contract extension, anxious to get back in uniform

Zach LaVine not sweating contract extension, anxious to get back in uniform

The Zach LaVine timeline for a Bulls debut remains the same, although he’s ahead of schedule in every metric of his return from ACL surgery this past February.

It doesn’t mean he isn’t angling for more work and pushing his limits to learn the offense he’ll be featured in, along with taking contact “here and there,” in his words. He’s supposed to wait nine months from the day of his February 14 surgery before taking contact, which would put him at a November 14 practice before the Bulls go to Oklahoma City.

“I should be doing contact really soon. It all depends on them,” LaVine said in his first public words since media day several weeks ago. “I’m pushing them as hard as I can, but at the end of the day we still gotta be careful. I feel great. I’m doing everything I was doing before. I’m pretty sure I can do contact, but we’ve got to stick to that schedule. But every day I’m just getting back, trying to as close to 100 percent as I can before I come back.”

LaVine was at Air Canada Centre getting a workout in before the Bulls opener against the Raptors and has gotten in heavy workouts on the off days with the assistant coaches in the meantime.

Sticking to the schedule will be on both LaVine and the Bulls, although both sides could be tempted to cut corners a bit. It would be human nature for the Bulls to show the NBA world their centerpiece from the Jimmy Butler trade on draft night, as well as LaVine to want to be the frontline player he feels he deserves to be.

“Yeah, it’s definitely hard. I don’t like missing games,” LaVine said. “Before the injury I didn’t really miss any games. I think I missed one or two in my career, so it really sucks just sitting there, not being able to help. I try to help as much as I can from the sideline. You know, give a little advice here and there, but yeah it hurts.”

He’s also in line for a big-time extension, having passed the deadline for extensions for players in his 2014 draft class. He’ll have to wait until the summer, especially since it didn’t make sense for him to extend unless it was a max deal.

“Obviously, I want to be here for a long time,” LaVine said. “And I feel the deal is going to get done, either then or next summer. I don’t have any fear in that. I think I know I’ll be in black and red for a little bit longer. I’m very happy and looking forward to that day as well. The main concern is just getting back on the court, get my legs ready and try to help the team as much as possible until then.”

LaVine was averaging a career-high 18.9 points as a third option behind Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, but will be featured in Fred Hoiberg’s offense as a first and maybe even second option, too—especially seeing how anemic the Bulls offense has looked in the first two games.

“With the team that we have and the system that (Fred Hoiberg) put in, we’re going to get up a lot of threes,” LaVine said. “When we’re on we’re going to blow some teams out with those threes. When we’re off, as the last couple games have shown, it’s going to be a struggle to score sometimes, but I think that’s where I can come in and help, and I can’t wait to get out there and start playing.”

Never lacking for confidence, LaVine hasn’t been deterred by the losing or even the unfortunate Bobby Portis-Nikola Mirotic incident from last week.

“We’re building something here. People understand we’re going through a little bit of that process,” LaVine said. “But we’re going to play and win. When I’m on the court, I’m trying to win. Wins and losses do happen. We can always take positives from both of those. That’s how you grow.”

As for Mirotic, LaVine hasn’t spoken to him but has sent texts—as it seems many of the Bulls have reached out to their teammate over the last several days.

“It was unfortunate. That’s what happens when two players are battling I guess,” LaVine said. “I don’t think either of them were in the wrong. It was just something that happened, an altercation. Men are men sometimes. We never should have that happen. But I think we’ve moved past it. Bobby’s in a good spot. We’ve all tried to contact Niko. I think we’ll all be able to move forward.”

No surprise as Bulls, Zach LaVine decide to wait on contract extension

No surprise as Bulls, Zach LaVine decide to wait on contract extension

Only a couple names went off the board of 2014 draftees who reached agreements on extensions with their teams, with Zach LaVine sitting on the sidelines as the midnight deadline came and went.

His debut in a Bulls uniform and contract will have to wait.

Although LaVine’s representatives and the Bulls front office remained in communication, there was never any serious talk of a deal being reached and he’ll hit restricted free agency this summer.

The Bulls will have a better picture of what type of player LaVine is post-surgery on his left knee, and LaVine will have a chance to reconstruct his market value the way he’s done to his knee—as evidenced by his casual stroll down the lane, two dribbles and two-handed dunk while running a dummy offense with the assistant coaches over the weekend at the Advocate Center.

His return isn’t imminent, as he’s still weeks away from being cleared to practice, following the track of his rehab from surgery.

Perhaps in a bit of curious timing, Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg was talking about LaVine, saying his future shooting guard wasn’t going through much in the way of 5-on-0 drills.

“The big focus right now is on his rehab,” Hoiberg said.

But considering how few options Hoiberg has on a team that isn’t expected to win more than 20 games, the thought of how he’ll use LaVine on the floor in this offense isn’t unrealistic.

“He's doing a lot of unpredictable movements, but a lot of that is 1-on-0 workouts. Yeah, absolutely there's things we look at and see actions that other teams might be running for their skilled players or shooters.”

Justin Holiday will be keeping the seat warm for LaVine until LaVine is completely healed from his surgery, and while the Bulls are adhering to the nine-month recovery prognosis after his February surgery, his return will be highly anticipated.

“Some of the things we're running for Justin right now I think will be very good for Zach as well,” Hoiberg said. “Then we're going to get both of those guys on the floor, it's going to give you two really good options as far as shooting and spacing and two athletic wing players.”

With the Bulls in the infancy stages of a rebuild, LaVine’s success is one they’ll be invested in above any other player on the roster considering the financial stakes.

LaVine can command a deal well over $100 million this summer and will join the likes of draftmates Jabari Parker, Julius Randle and Aaron Gordon into the always-tricky world of restricted free agency.

The Bulls have done this dance before, most recently with Jimmy Butler before Butler blossomed into an All-Star. There was a small gulf between Butler’s contract wishes and the Bulls offer before the 2014-15 season began, one that resulted in Butler receiving a max contract when Butler took the biggest single-season leap in his career.

Preserving precious salary cap space has been paramount for the Bulls, who originally signed Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo to short-term deals with an eye on the summer of 2018, believing many teams will have overspent with the salary cap boom.

In that instance, they’re correct and are in position to have among the most cap space in the NBA next summer when Wade’s contract buyout runs off the books being close to $40 million under the cap. As of now, only Robin Lopez is guaranteed over $10 million for next season and Nikola Mirotic’s deal is a team option.

For LaVine, he began to blossom playing as a third wheel behind Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins in Minnesota before tearing his ACL. If he’s a reasonable facsimile physically, he will produce at a higher clip than scoring 18.9 points as a No. 1 option in Chicago.

As the centerpiece in the Butler trade, the Bulls have no intentions on letting him walk and LaVine is even more incentivized to perform for a potential max contract.

“I'm very excited about Zach. You can tell how much he wants to be out there with our guys. Every day he comes in and says, 'Coach, I'm ready to go out there',” Hoiberg said. “It's a process. We have to make sure he 100 percent healthy, even though he feels no symptoms right now at all. He's got no soreness in that leg. But he can't wait, his teammates can't wait and the staff obviously is very excited to get him back out there.”

Someone has to score for the Bulls, so why not Justin Holiday?

Someone has to score for the Bulls, so why not Justin Holiday?

Justin Holiday probably isn’t at the top of Las Vegas’ list for odds on being the Bulls’ high scorer, but if the preseason is any indication he’ll establish himself as a decent one.

The Bulls will struggle, especially until Zach LaVine returns, but shots will have to come from somewhere and Holiday’s aptitude for Fred Hoiberg’s system combined with his aggressiveness makes him a candidate to lead the Bulls in that category.

“This offense allows myself and guys on this team to flourish,” Holiday said. “A lot of movement, which I do well. Cutting and obviously shooting the ball. This offense is made for the team we have and made for me. We’re showing it thus far.”

Nikola Mirotic is more gifted and has a longer resume, but consistency isn’t at the top of his docket; He’s prone to go missing in action for weeks at a time.

Holiday’s ceiling doesn’t go as high but his floor isn’t as low. He takes shots in the flow of the offense. Because he moves around the perimeter so well, floating to the corner for skip passes and swing passes, he’ll have more than his share of open looks.

“I think the biggest thing Justin has done is his cuts, getting out on the break,” said Hoiberg. “We’re stressing simple plays. He takes what the defense gives him. He’s one of the guys who can stop on a dime, rise up with great balance and shoot the ball. Continue to make simple plays. It’s really an equal opportunity offense to where you cut hard and make the right reads you’ll get open shots.”

Seeing him average close to 15 points a game isn’t far-fetched for a guy who never averaged more than seven shots per game in his first four NBA seasons.

“I can’t say I thought it would be like that on a night-to-night basis. I mean I knew I would have more responsibility, more to do offensively,” Holiday said. “When I was here last time, with the guys who were able to score, that’s what I’m able to do, play with guys who can get buckets and still be effective. So I have the same mentality as I did.”

Holiday originally played for the Bulls in 2015-16, acquired in a trade involving Kirk Hinrich and then put in the package that sent Derrick Rose to New York right before the 2016 draft.

He was steady in his limited time that season, when the Bulls were in a different place and Holiday was certainly more of a complementary piece than a potential primary scorer.

As he’s worked on being a more consistent scorer, he’s noticed a change in Hoiberg, who was in his first season when Holiday arrived.

“I think he’s a little more assertive,” Holiday said. “He seems a little more comfortable, after the years and experiences he’s had. Ups and downs make you better for it, I think he’s better than he was the first time.”

Now he’s one of the few Bulls with a decent amount of NBA experience, although he’s still looking to establish himself individually. It puts him in a unique position of being looked to as a leader while also making sure his feet are firmly planted on the ground.

“I enjoy it. I feel like I’m trying to establish myself like they are,” Holiday said. “So I know I am considered a vet but I don’t think I’m an old dude. I think we’re all trying to get somewhere, we’re all trying to make it. That’s how it is for me.”

So when he was asked about potential statistical achievements this season, he shifted the conversation.

“My goals changed and me being a leader. The main thing I’m focused on was how I can lead to make this team successful,” Holiday said. “Some people might think leading is easy. Some people might not. To put your team in front of you before yourself, especially when you’re able to be on the floor a lot is something I’ve been focused on, not myself.”