At 25, Zach LaVine will enter his seventh NBA season whenever the 2020-21 campaign begins.
Billy Donovan will be his sixth head coach.
“It’s hard to have a coach and then go to another one and you’re in different offenses and philosophies,” LaVine said.
LaVine isn’t one to make excuses. He looks inward and shoulders appropriate accountability. In fact, during another answer about why the Bulls have underachieved, he said you can’t divert blame from players.
Nevertheless, he’s stating a fact. Coaching changes are hard. They symbolize failure and create disruption.
No wonder LaVine, who is coming off averaging a career-high 25.5 points per game under the fired Jim Boylen, sounded so upbeat when talking about the arrival of Billy Donovan. Given that Donovan comes with impeccable credentials and enters on the ground floor with new executives Artūras Karnišovas and Marc Eversley, he should have staying power.
“I was extremely happy,” LaVine said following the Bulls’ second group workout since March on Thursday. “Somebody with his track record not just in the NBA but in college as well, a whole ton of players who are proven saying how great of a guy he is and how good of a coach he is.
“People like me, when you want to be great, you want to be coached extremely well. I gave him a text right when I heard the news. And I told him hurry to get after it. I’m extremely excited. I think the whole organization is.”
After touching base with Donovan, LaVine said he started to reach out to peers he knows who have played for Donovan. The returns were what you might expect.
“I've heard he's very personable, somebody who's gonna coach and coach the right way,” LaVine said. “I've heard he's not beat-around-the-bush. If you come to him with a straight question, he'll give you a straight answer. And then also, like, he's been a father to some guys.
“I don't know Joakim Noah personally, but I've heard him through interviews say how he's been more than a coach to him. And you know, that carries weight. Especially from a guy like that who's very respected in the league. I know Bradley Beal has said a lot of good things about him as well. So, it's always good to hear positive things like that and obviously his track record speaks for itself. And being voted on as co-Coach of the Year, not by the media but by your peers, I think that's what we respect a lot more.”
Donovan sounded all the right notes in his introductory news conference. But one point he made in particular, about coaching to players’ strengths, resonated with LaVine.
Under Boylen, the Bulls largely eschewed the midrange shot, long a staple of LaVine’s offensive game. Donovan cited how Chris Paul’s “amazing midrange game” served as a staple for the Thunder’s offense.
“I feel like it's going to be a lot better for guys, especially for me, if you have that part of your game now and you can use all your tools. You know, instead of almost playing with one hand behind your back and if you get to the midrange you're not supposed to shoot a shot that's open. Don't pass up on the best shot,” LaVine said. “Now, I'm not saying that we should be taking strictly midrange jumpers. I know he don't think that either. But if it's a good shot, you should take it and you shouldn't feel bad about it either.”
Nevertheless, LaVine confirmed what Boylen said in his exit interview from Chicago, that the two spoke following Boylen’s firing. Even if LaVine offered criticism at times of Boylen, his game undeniably grew during Boylen’s tenure as Boylen challenged him to become a better two-way player.
“I look at myself as someone who is extremely professional. I reached out to him, gave him thank you and told him I hope he lands on his feet. He responded. Everything was good on the phone,” LaVine said. “At the end of the day, regardless of whatever the media narrative is, it’s tough when people get fired because this is their livelihood. I definitely just wanted to reach out to him and say a few words.”