Chicago played a tremendous host to the NBA’s 69th All-Star Game and the preceding weekend of festivities. The Bulls, though, spent much of their time at the center of the NBA universe being lambasted from all sides by pundits and fans, alike.
The bright spot amid the tumult was the team’s best player and bona fide cornerstone, Zach LaVine, who made the only appearance in an All-Star event by a Bull while gracefully juggling television spots and community engagement appearances throughout the weekend.
One national personality offered a refreshing perspective on LaVine’s ascension in his sixth season: ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith.
“I’ve always seen the growth from Zach LaVine,” Smith told NBC Sports Chicago. “He’s a really good person, he’s a damn good player, incredibly athletic — had a nasty injury a few years ago, came back from that — so to see the athleticism and the ability he’s had… I remember his agent Bill Duffy used to brag about what he was going to be, and he’s lived up to it.”
That growth, in Smith’s opinion, is the greatest thing that could have happened for a Bulls team mired in a choppy rebuild. But not for the reason you might think.
“I think the greatest thing that Zach LaVine is doing for the Chicago Bulls right now is making the Chicago Bulls fans see that change needs to occur,” Smith said. “Cause when you have somebody like him — what’re you doing with him? What’re you building around him? What kind of things are you doing to facilitate the level of success he obviously craves? When you have talent like him, you don’t just let it go to waste, and right now there are legitimate questions about whether or not that’s exactly what the Bulls are doing.”
Change could very well be coming for the Bulls this offseason, though it remains unclear exactly what said change would entail. But if this season has shown this city anything, it’s that LaVine is a part of the solution, not the problem.
“I think he does, I think he does,” Smith said when asked if LaVine has the potential to be a true franchise player to build around. “I'm not saying he's the second coming of Michael Jordan, but he's a damn good basketball player with a tremendous upside. He's got the right mentality, he's got the right approach and the right focus. He certainly has tremendous athletic ability. he's not scared of anybody. And he can do some things.”
Desirability as a destination will be key to the Bulls in the next phase(s) of the rebuild. Smith lamented that aspect of the organization, as well.
“But you haven't put anything around him from an organizational perspective, from a coaching perspective, from a player personnel perspective. You haven't done anything. And the Bulls are gonna have to do something because you do not have a talent like that and just stand around and do nothing. Cause if you don't do anything with him, there's no star alive that's gonna think about coming to Chicago to play for you.”