There’s a good chance Zach LaVine will return from this summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo with some fresh hardware. Preferably of the gold variety.
Fans of the Chicago Bulls hope he’ll also bring back some new friends — and a more seasoned mentality.
It’s not that LaVine needs any reminder of the importance of offseason work ethic, or additional fuel to his desire to win. The All-Star guard has improved each year since tearing his ACL at age 21, and in a 2020-21 campaign that was his best yet, took his game to another level in almost every facet.
The next step is more green in the win column. The Bulls’ 31-41 record last season marked the best winning percentage (.431) of any team LaVine has been on in his NBA career, a reminder of the tumults (e.g. six coaches in seven seasons) he’s already faced.
But for the next month or so, he’ll be immersed in an Olympic environment with players that have won at the highest level. NBA champions on the roster include Draymond Green (three times), Kevin Durant (twice), Kevin Love and, soon, one or two of Devin Booker, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday. Bam Adebayo and those latter three have made NBA Finals appearances, while Damian Lillard and Jayson Tatum have seen conference finals action.
In fact, LaVine is the only player on the roster without a playoff appearance under his belt.
To hear NBC Olympics basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla tell it, what LaVine absorbs from those minds will be just as valuable as the basketball played.
“What I'm excited about with Zach LaVine is being around guys like KD and Dame Lillard and Bradley Beal and other stars — you know, Draymond — over the next month,” Fraschilla told Jason Goff on the latest Bulls Talk Podcast. “To see how much of that winning, championship feeling he soaks up from guys like KD and Draymond.
“I'm excited to see what Zach soaks up from being around greatness for a month. Because he's on the verge of greatness. But all great players have looked back in their past and said ‘I want to be like KD.’ KD wanted to be like Kobe (Bryant). Kobe wanted to be like Michael (Jordan). You know, Michael wanted to be where Larry (Bird) and Magic (Johnson) were.
“And that's what I'm excited about Zach LaVine. What does he bring back from Tokyo and add to his game, not just on the court, but his mentality.”
LaVine is the fourth active Bull to play for the U.S. National Team on the Olympic stage in franchise history along with Jimmy Butler (2016), Scottie Pippen (1992, 1996) and Jordan (1984, 1992).
Joining that company is a testament to his development and a welcome sign for an organization trying to claw its way back to relevancy. Perhaps it can be a springboard to a step further.
NBC Olympics basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla will be on the call when the U.S. men take on Nigeria in a pre-Olympic exhibition this Saturday at 8pm ET on NBCSN. The Tokyo Olympics begin July 23