Zach LaVine has seen his fair share of adversity. In his first three NBA seasons in Minnesota, the Timberwolves logged a 76-170 record. In roughly two-and-a-half with the Bulls, the team is just 68-152. That’s 144-322 overall.
“I’ve done a lot of losing my whole career,” LaVine said, with a note of dry lightheartedness, after the latest defeat — a 103-93 home loss to the Charlotte Hornets that kicked off a gauntlet of a post-All-Star break slate for the Bulls. “I've been frustrated from the get-go, so I want that to change.”
None of the above is intended as a knock on LaVine. To put it lightly, this Bulls’ season — the third of a once-promising rebuild — has underwhelmed to this point, but he’s been among the only bright spots.
On the court, LaVine has taken steps forward as a scorer, closer, two-way player and all-around playmaker. Tonight, despite shooting just 8-for-22 from the field (the Hornets swarmed him with multiple bodies, as most opponents do, all game), he notched seven rebounds and seven assists — his team-high 14th game this season with minimums of at least 10 points, five rebounds and five assists.
And off it, LaVine has represented the Bulls with grace at every turn. After each game, win or lose, he puts on a brave face and shoots straight to myriad prying reporters. To pundits hoping to force a slip-up on his discontent, he stays professional and optimistic.
“I just understand the situation that we're in,” LaVine said of how he handles the duress of being the leader of an underperforming team. “And, just me, I'm a glass half-full type guy. I think I say things how it is still. I'm frustrated, I think everybody is. You know, we've been losing, but I take pride in what I do on the court each and every day.”
The loss to the Hornets was a splash of freezing water after Chicago played splendid host to All-Star festivities the previous weekend — a weekend that saw the Bulls organization repeatedly derided and ended with reports that ambiguous change could take hold come the offseason.
This, just over halfway through a season that began with talk of a playoff berth and a blossoming young core. A next step.
“Hell no,” LaVine said when asked if he garnered any sympathy from other players in regards to the Bulls’ situation over the weekend. “They[‘re] waiting to play us it seems like, so we gotta take that as a challenge, 'cause when guys come in here they try to get that win… We're fighting, everybody knows we're undermanned right now but nobody cares. It's a dog-eat-dog world out here.”
Unfortunately, the Bulls have been kibble more often than not, of late. At 19-37, mired in a season-long seven-game losing streak and with a novela-length injured list, the eighth seed is all but a distant glimmer. But, in LaVine’s words, they’re not on vacation yet.
“You gotta stay locked in,” LaVine said. “You can't be looking at that April date. You gotta look at it glass half-full, you can't be on vacation mode or looking to where you're gonna be at. We got a lot of season left and we gotta stay locked in.
“This is our job, this is our dream job, his is something millions of people wish they could do good or bad. You know, it's a tough situation, nobody likes being in a losing situation but you get to see who's fighting with you and who's not, too.”
The Bulls certainly fought tonight, though that framing will induce eye-rolls from a large swath of the fanbase. After a lackluster first half, the team stormed back from down 21 to within two points at one point in the third quarter. Ultimately, that rally fell short.
But the season marches on — injuries, tough shooting nights and all.
“I'm good. I know what I gotta go out there and do. Gotta go out there and do our job it shouldn't matter what our record is,” LaVine said of the mental trials ahead.
“I just try to be me. Don't try to be anybody else.”
The Bulls could do a lot worse.
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