NBA All-Star

The best thing Zach LaVine has done for the Bulls, according to Stephen A. Smith

The best thing Zach LaVine has done for the Bulls, according to Stephen A. Smith

Chicago played a tremendous host to the NBA’s 69th All-Star Game and the preceding weekend of festivities. The Bulls, though, spent much of their time at the center of the NBA universe being lambasted from all sides by pundits and fans, alike. 

The bright spot amid the tumult was the team’s best player and bona fide cornerstone, Zach LaVine, who made the only appearance in an All-Star event by a Bull while gracefully juggling television spots and community engagement appearances throughout the weekend.

RELATED: Bulls Talk Podcast: NBA All-Star 2020 weekend recap and Bulls front office changes?

One national personality offered a refreshing perspective on LaVine’s ascension in his sixth season: ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith.

“I’ve always seen the growth from Zach LaVine,” Smith told NBC Sports Chicago. “He’s a really good person, he’s a damn good player, incredibly athletic — had a nasty injury a few years ago, came back from that — so to see the athleticism and the ability he’s had… I remember his agent Bill Duffy used to brag about what he was going to be, and he’s lived up to it.”

That growth, in Smith’s opinion, is the greatest thing that could have happened for a Bulls team mired in a choppy rebuild. But not for the reason you might think.

“I think the greatest thing that Zach LaVine is doing for the Chicago Bulls right now is making the Chicago Bulls fans see that change needs to occur,” Smith said. “Cause when you have somebody like him — what’re you doing with him? What’re you building around him? What kind of things are you doing to facilitate the level of success he obviously craves? When you have talent like him, you don’t just let it go to waste, and right now there are legitimate questions about whether or not that’s exactly what the Bulls are doing.”

Change could very well be coming for the Bulls this offseason, though it remains unclear exactly what said change would entail. But if this season has shown this city anything, it’s that LaVine is a part of the solution, not the problem.

“I think he does, I think he does,” Smith said when asked if LaVine has the potential to be a true franchise player to build around. “I'm not saying he's the second coming of Michael Jordan, but he's a damn good basketball player with a tremendous upside. He's got the right mentality, he's got the right approach and the right focus. He certainly has tremendous athletic ability. he's not scared of anybody. And he can do some things.”

Desirability as a destination will be key to the Bulls in the next phase(s) of the rebuild. Smith lamented that aspect of the organization, as well.

“But you haven't put anything around him from an organizational perspective, from a coaching perspective, from a player personnel perspective. You haven't done anything. And the Bulls are gonna have to do something because you do not have a talent like that and just stand around and do nothing. Cause if you don't do anything with him, there's no star alive that's gonna think about coming to Chicago to play for you.”

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Bulls Talk Podcast: NBA All-Star 2020 weekend recap and Bulls front office changes?

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: NBA All-Star 2020 weekend recap and Bulls front office changes?

NBA All-Star weekend in Chicago was a massive success and will be remembered for years to come. Tony Gill is joined by Rob Schaefer to recap everything that went on in the city during All-Star weekend. Later, they discuss the reporter rumors that the Bulls are ready to change things up in the front office.

(0:56) - Experiencing All-Star weekend in Chicago

(5:00) - Stories of All-Star weekend

(11:00) - NBA doesn't fear change of the norm

(18:00) - Should Derrick Rose have been more a part of All-Star weekend?

(24:00) - Bulls are rumored to be changing the front office

(34:00) - Will the Bulls find the best candidate possible?

(40:00) - Which Bulls to watch for in the last stretch of the NBA season

Listen here or in the embedded player below.

Bulls Talk Podcast

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Tributes to Kobe Bryant, city of Chicago highlight memorable All-Star Sunday

Tributes to Kobe Bryant, city of Chicago highlight memorable All-Star Sunday

The specter of Kobe Bryant was omnipresent throughout All-Star weekend. Too often, it felt that the city of Chicago was not. 

But both took center stage at the All-Star game itself on Sunday night. The result was poignant, powerful and downright enthralling.

Magic Johnson set the tone early with a eulogy to Bryant that elicited multiple, impassioned ‘Kobe!’ chants from the crowd. That gave way to South Side native Common seamlessly weaving a cadenced monologue dedicated to Chicago, Bryant and daughter Gigi, as images of city legends from Barack Obama to Michael Jordan to Hebru Brantley flashed across the screen. The United Center rippled with emotion from start to finish.

For Bryant, the homage was a culmination.

"You could definitely feel Bean's presence just from the start. From every moment," LeBron James said. "He was definitely here."

And for Chicago, it was an essential re-centering to cap a weekend that saw only one Bull participate in an event — Zach LaVine, who exited after round one of the 3-point shootout. After 32 years since last hosting, this city deserved its moment in the sun. That one delivered.

“Chicago held it down,” Anthony Davis said. “I think they showed the league and everyone around the world about our Chicago history, about the city. I think everyone enjoyed it and respects Chicago a little bit more.”

Of course, there was a game to play, too — and embedded within were moments of pure symbolism.

On the surface: Members of Team Giannis and Team LeBron donned No. 24 and No. 2, respectively, in honor of Bryant and Gigi. The final quarter of the game went untimed, a slog to 157 (in a honor of Bryant, 24 points more than the 133 Team Giannis entered the period with, per the league’s new Elam-inspired format). 

Chicago charities — Chicago Scholars ($400,000) for Team LeBron, After School Matters ($100,000) for Giannis — also received a cumulative $500,000 over the course of the game. Seventy-nine assists between the two teams means $79,000 will go towards STEM research in the greater Chicago area, as well.

But now, let’s get a little nebulous. 

That fourth quarter, after a familiarly lackluster previous three, was electric. The offenses were legitimately running plays, the defenses were scrapping. There was controversial officiating, sweat dripping, and charges and clutch blocks galore. By the end, you could cut the tension with a knife.

“It felt like playing in the league in a playoff game,” Davis said.

Forgive me this contrivance, but how fitting a finish to commemorate both this city and Bryant. A true grind-it-out, scratch-and-claw affair. And as epic a pickup run as you’re like to find.

Most poetic, then, was the winning bucket. Yes, it was a free-throw — an anticlimactic ending to a memorable night — but the man that took it, Davis, was both born and bred in Chicago, and currently reps the same purple and gold Bryant did for 20 seasons as a member of the Lakers. 

“It was a great feeling, to be back home,” Davis said. “And I’m happy I was able to be the one to knock down the free throw to seal the game.

“For our side to get a win, for Kob (Kobe), this whole weekend was honoring him. And I think the league did a great job of doing that.”

Davis went on to congratulate Kawhi Leonard, who tonight took home the first ever Kobe Bryant All-Star game MVP award. His 30 points led all scorers in the game.

“It’s very special,” Leonard said. “I had a relationship with him (Bryant). Words can’t explain how happy I am for it. Able to put that trophy in my room… And just to be able to see Kobe’s name on there. It just means a lot to me. He’s a big inspiration in my life. He did a lot for me.”

On Thursday, normalcy will return to the United Center in the form of the Bulls and Hornets. But this was a night no one will soon forget. Thank you, Chicago. Thank you, basketball.

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