Zach LaVine, Thad Young share end-of-season disgust, coronavirus concerns

Zach LaVine, Thad Young share end-of-season disgust, coronavirus concerns

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.”


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How former Bull C.J. Watson is working to inspire children through books

How former Bull C.J. Watson is working to inspire children through books

C.J. Watson carved out a 10-year NBA career with not just talent but also an ability to overcome odds and tune out doubters.

So whenever the former Bulls guard encountered skepticism for his latest dream, he’d answer every "Why” with a "Why not?”

That dream? To create children's books. Watson, 36, has now published two titles: "CJ’s Big Dream" and "CJ’s Big Project." The first came out last November, the second in March.

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“It was just a random idea I had to challenge myself and try to push myself,” Watson said in a phone conversation. “I want to try to continue to be an inspiration. Playing in the NBA is an inspiration to kids. But I wanted to continue to offer kids knowledge and tell my story through books.

“Kids are the next generation of leaders. They’re the next entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers. Some kid will grow up to be President. I just wanted to try to share some gems and drops of knowledge. I want to try to propel little boys and girls and let them know it’s OK to shoot for their dreams and to dream big.”

The books were written by author Tamika Newhouse and illustrated by Cameron Wilson based on stories shared by Watson. Watson spent hours on the phone over a six-month period with Newhouse, sharing his stories and his vision for the project, which is scheduled to include at least one more title.

They are based on Watson’s upbringing in Las Vegas, where he first experienced doubts for his NBA dream.

“These are true stories,” Watson said. “I made it to the NBA after growing up in the inner city and not having the same resources or same chances as some. Growing up, seeing graffiti, abandoned houses, drugs, gangs, it can be discouraging. But I had a great support system that kept me focused on my goal.”

The second book focuses on the time Watson received an F on a science project in school. But the teacher offered him a chance to re-do it, which taught him a valuable lesson.

“The second book talks about working hard and the importance of getting good grades to be able to play sports,” he said. “That was the important thing in my household. If we didn’t have good grades, my brother and I couldn’t play sports.”

Watson is the father of two children with one on the way. His parents, Cathy and Charles, stressed education and reading as they raised him and his brother. He majored in psychology at Tennessee, which is in his parents’ hometown of Nashville, Tenn.

“My parents came from an area more poverty-stricken than I did,” Watson said. “You always want better for your kid, right? We might not have lived in the best area, but they always put my brother and me in the best schools to give us the best chance to succeed.

“They also were big on me and my brother doing community service. We’d go feed the homeless. We’d go visit nursing homes to care for the elderly. When I was younger, I always said if I made it that I wanted to give back.”

Watson and his family established his Quiet Storm Foundation in 2009. That foundation established an active presence in Chicago during his two seasons with the Bulls.

Watson is eight years removed from that stint, where he played an important role for a reserve unit so potent that it achieved its own nickname. “The Bench Mob” proved a significant reason the Bulls led the NBA in regular-season victories in consecutive seasons in 2010-11 and 2011-12.

“It was definitely fun. It goes by fast. Chicago was probably some of the best years I had in the NBA,” Watson said. “We could’ve achieved more. We weren’t picked to do much that first year and surprised everybody. Then that second year, D-Rose got hurt.

“I felt like they should’ve kept the team together maybe a couple more years to try to see what could’ve happened. But it’s a business at the end of the day.”

Watson isn’t surprised Rose, who he backed up, is thriving again after a series of knee injuries, surgeries and rehabilitations.

“Definitely a great teammate, probably one of my favorites,” Watson said. “Injuries take a toll on you. He was held up to the MVP standard and some people judged him unfairly. But he has worked so hard. I’m definitely rooting for him and I’m always watching.”

Watson played for Charles Oakley’s team in the Big3 last summer, a 3-on-3 pro league that was canceled this summer because of COVID-19. He isn’t sure if he’ll play again if the league resumes next summer.

“It was fun. But it’s a different league. It’s pretty brutal. They don’t call any fouls. It’s kind of an old man’s game,” Watson said. “My body may have had enough.”

No matter his decision, Watson’s mind remains sharp.

“These books definitely are not a money maker. It’s a passion project,” Watson said. “Unless you’re a big-time children’s author, you probably won’t make a living at this. But I just did it to inspire kids and challenge myself. It’s kind of like the NBA. I never thought I’d make the NBA.  But lo and behold, I worked hard enough and got there.”


Windy City Bulls standout PJ Dozier secures multi-year deal with Nuggets

Windy City Bulls standout PJ Dozier secures multi-year deal with Nuggets

Since going unselected in the 2017 NBA Draft, PJ Dozier has had his fair share of stops, from brief stints signed to the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks, to successive one-year pacts with the Oklahoma City Thunder (2017-18) and Boston Celtics (2018-19). He spent most of the latter two tenures in the G League.

Dozier began the 2019-20 season signed to the Denver Nuggets on a two-way deal, but assigned to the Windy City Bulls, the Bulls' G League affiliate, along with 2019 second-round draftee of the Nuggets Bol Bol. 

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On Tuesday, the Nuggets officially announced they are converting Dozier's two-way deal into a multi-year contract with the team.

It's great news for Dozier, who enjoyed a dominating campaign for Windy City. In 18 games with the team, he averaged 21.4 points, 7.7 rebounds, 7.7 assists and 1.7 steals on 43.8-32.6-74.1 shooting splits. A 6-foot-6 playmaking wing, Dozier flashed plus ball-handling, scoring and facilitating ability at a position of supreme value in the modern game.

He parlayed all of the above into a midseason All-NBA G League selection, but was recently left off the end-of-season all-league teams, presumably due to a limited sample size. He was called up to the Nuggets in mid-January and made an immediate impact, scoring 12 points on 5-for-7 shooting (2-for-4 from 3) in his debut, a win over the Charlotte Hornets. He reset his NBA career high one week later with a 15-point outing against the Houston Rockets.

In the run-up to the NBA pausing its season, Dozier appeared in 21 of 26 games for the Nuggets, averaging 4.1 points, 1.4 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game. He'd appeared in just eight career NBA games before that stretch. 

How much of an imprint will he make on the Nuggets' rotation when the NBA season restarts? It's too soon to say. But it seems the longtime G League standout's breakthrough at the next level could be coming.