Zach LaVine could hardly hide his disgust when asked for his feelings about the NBA restarting its 2019-20 season in Orlando, Fla., without the Bulls.
“We weren’t even good enough to get to the play-in game,” LaVine said Friday on a conference call with reporters about the league’s 22-team format. “It sucks. It just shows we have to do a lot of things differently to get ourselves that recognition to get to that spot.”
It’s familiar territory for LaVine, who grew individually while averaging a career-high 25.5 points in 60 games with 4.2 assists. But six seasons into the league, he has yet to experience a playoff game.
“I’m just ready to become a winning team and a winning player... If you want to put it in real terms, I haven’t played a really meaningful basketball game,” LaVine said. “Every game in the NBA is meaningful. But once the playoffs come, that's when you compete for championships. We haven't had an opportunity to do that. I haven't. So I'm just continuing, ready to progress my career and get better and try to reach that next step.”
Thaddeus Young has played in 51 career playoff games, including for the eighth-seeded 76ers when they upset the top-seeded Bulls in 2012 after Derrick Rose tore his left ACL. While praising the NBA for its handling of an unprecedented time, the father of two young sons offered broad perspective about the return-to-play format.
“Obviously I wanted to play. I wanted to be a part of it. But another side of me was worried about being away from my family or if they were to even come down, just me being around everybody in general, playing basketball and then going back to my family and not knowing if I’ve contracted the virus or not knowing if my family has contracted the virus,” Young said on a conference call of his own. “My major concern is (my family’s) health. Me, personally, I think I can fight it off. But I don’t know if my kids would be able to do that. I don’t know if my wife would be able to do that. So I don’t want to put them in harm’s way to where it’s a situation that they contract the virus. I just wanted to be as safe as possible.”
LaVine, who recently became engaged, acknowledged similar concerns.
“As basketball players, that’s our job. We want to play,” he said. “I think the main concern — and I think it still is a concern with the players that are going down there — is it safe? People are in different situations. Some have families, some have wives, girlfriends, different things like that. I’m a big family person. I see my parents and my now-fiancée every day.
“It’s just concerning on, if we do go down there, do we have to be quarantined from our family? What happens if somebody gets it? Can you bring it back and make sure that your family feels safe? Does family come with you? I think those were more of the general questions. It wasn’t anything about basketball, because that’s the thing that we understand how to do. With COVID, that’s unknown. So that’s what I think a lot of the questions were about.”
The unprecedented situation also will lead to an unprecedented offseason. The Bulls will go from mid-March to sometime in December without playing a regular-season game.
“That’s going to be a long period of time. You gotta stay in shape obviously. I think I do a really good job of that, even with the decision of us not going to the little play-in tournament in Orlando. I was working out every day. I was waking up at 9 (a.m.) and getting my lifts in, making sure my cardio is right,” LaVine said. “Obviously, you won’t be in basketball shape. But I was going to get my workout in, get up 200, 300 shots a night. I was ready to hit the ground running. Pick right back up where I was.
“Obviously, I think you have to have an offseason to let your body and mind rest just for injury prevention and just your own general wellness. And then pick it up back again. I’m glad that they gave us a start date at least to where we can figure out when to start going again and get back in somewhat of shape.”
Actually, the start date for the 2020-21 season still needs to be negotiated between the league and players association. It will be sometime in December, which is a long ways off.
“Just continue to try to work out as best as you can, especially with COVID still in full effect,” Young said of his offseason plan. “We just moved into a new house in Texas so I was literally putting together a whole in-house jump floor to get my weight room going and stuff like that. Just doing things that can keep you in basketball shape, which is running outside, running on the treadmill. If you can get into a gym, get into a gym and get some shots up.
“Obviously, being out for 10 months, rest is always good. I've had a lot of time to rest, so you have to find a way to get some type of work in. For me, being in my 13th season, it's probably added a couple years onto my career. Just make sure I'm still in sync with the team as far as them putting together a program for me to do.”