Who knows when the texts between Zach LaVine and Jabari Parker went from simple check-ins and bonding over grueling rehab to recruitment but LaVine wasn’t gonna let the world know if he was tampering last season.
“Umm… right after the season. I know what I’m doing,” LaVine said about when the nature of their conversations turned to the prospect of being teammates.
“I was talking him all last year, man. Talking to him, communicating with him. We’re starting to build a friendship. I talk to him every morning.”
The draftmates from the 2014 class share plenty in common, from the unfortunate timing of their 2017 ACL injuries—LaVine’s was on Feb. 3 while Parker’s second ACL tear was five days later—to their love of old-school hip-hop and LaVine’s infatuation with Parker’s classic cars.
“He’s a real cool dude. Real laid back, an old soul,” LaVine said. “We already have some connections.’’
Their biggest connection to date is the knowledge only a few men in their position can claim—coming back from a debilitating injury and the dark days that occur between surgery and a return.
“He’s had two of them, so I can’t even understand the type of struggles. Because it takes a toll on you,” LaVine said. “I went through one and it’s tough. I think we were both having career years, both averaging around 20 points a game and had some All-Star votes, stuff like that, coming into our own. Then something happens and it takes it all away from you, and it sucks.”
The glimmer in LaVine’s eye and sly smile belied the confidence he feels in his new teammate and a growing friendship among the two highest-paid Bulls along with being the guys who can get their own shots outside of the flow of the offense.
He already feels he and Parker can be two of the leaders on a young Bulls team hoping to surprise folks as the expectations have been modest at best.
“I think it’s the main guys – me, Lauri (Markkanen), Jabari, Kris (Dunn), the main guys on the team that have already established themselves as the main role guys,” LaVine said. “But we’re not going to start this thing on who is the Alpha and things like that. We’re going to need more than one Alpha on the team. That’s how teams are now.”
If Parker’s offensive capabilities are as complete as his short dossier suggests—being quick off the bounce and explosive for his size—then he, LaVine and Markkanen can play off each other to make the Bulls a versatile group on offense.
Usually, though, someone has to take a backseat, especially as Markkanen is expected to take more of a central role this season.
“There’s going to be some games where one of us doesn’t get as many shots as we did the game before or get as many points as we did the game before, but I think as long as we win we’ll be OK,” LaVine said.
But if the results aren’t coming as fast and furious as young teams expect it to, then comes the questioning of the sacrifices that will be made.
“Then something’s got to change. That’s always the point,” LaVine said. “I think we’ll be alright though. I think we’re all unselfish, we all understand each other’s game and where the ball is supposed to go. I think we’ll be OK. We’ll figure out through preseason.”
Playing with pace is objective number one for Fred Hoiberg in this new abbreviated preseason, where the regular season begins about 10 days earlier than usual, so getting the players on the same page will feel like a crash course compared to previous years.
“It’s probably not going to be one guy,” Hoiberg said. “You say this is the player we’re going to go to tonight. It’s hopefully based on getting the ball up the floor quickly and attacking the defense early. We have a lot of guys that are capable of putting up big numbers. You’ve got guys that have averaged 20 points in this league.”
Hoiberg said it’s a trust factor that will come into play, and while many believe the head coach must establish the pecking order, LaVine feels the players must decide amongst themselves who’ll eat first and eat most.
“I mean the coaches are going to make their opinions and assumptions, but I feel like it comes from the players as well,” LaVine said. “We’re the ones playing, we understand each other’s games.”
And of course, that comes with more accountability on the floor with each other when things go awry. LaVine said he’s prepared and hopes his growing friendships around the team can aid in that area.
“I’ve never been one of the most vocal guys,” LaVine said. “I’ve always tried to lead by example and hard work, things like that, but to become a better leader you have to show your voice, so I’ve been trying to do that a bit more.”