Comments from the Chicago Bulls star guard resurfaced this week and some took it as an omen. It should be a message for a teammate.
Chicago Bulls fans have had an up-and-down ride in the time between the shutdown and Thursday’s impending restart. The latest episode in the saga involves resurfaced comments Zach LaVine, the Bulls best player, made on First Take (back in February) about LeBron James.
"“I would love to go out there and play with Lebron James. I’d love to play with a point guard that passes the ball up and down the court like that. Sometimes playing with a dominant big man is great too.”"
This in the wake of reports of teams discussing potential trade offers for players in situations similar to LaVine’s. A salt-in-the-wound reminder of how little is settled for the Bulls.
Fans went from being put out of their misery of a third-straight losing season to wondering if they are doomed for a fourth. Part of that is because Arturas Karnisovas came in and made sweeping changes, he left the source of many fans anger in limbo.
A Kick in the Bulls
The chatter around Jim Boylen has turned of late. After being considered a man on borrowed time as far back as last season, there is a growing buzz that Boylen could return for the 2021 season. This is a gut punch to fans but that’s not even the half of it.
There is also growing speculation about why Boylen could survive the Bulls house cleaning. Talk has gone from patience by Karnisovas and new general manager Marc Eversley to Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf (who also owns the Chicago White Sox) feeling the crunch of nine-figure losses due to COVID-19 keeping fans away from stadiums.
Sprinkled in are rumors of Gar Forman acolytes, and even Reinsdorf himself, undercutting the “autonomy” of Karnisovas. K.C. Johnson, of NBC Sports Chicago, has also been dropping hints and supporting arguments for Boylen’s return.
What the Problem Is
Whatever the reasoning behind it, the real issue with retaining Boylen is the impact on players; both in retaining current players and attracting players to Chicago. Scottie Pippen expressed a common sentiment about the Bulls not being a free-agent destination historically and emphasizing the need to build via the draft.
Through that lens, alienating the guys on the roster becomes the primary concern. So the report coming from Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times about players feeling unheard by the front office is a problem. The “players first” mentality espoused by Karnisovas and Eversley upon arrival is in jeopardy before it even begins.
The problem is LaVine’s comments, again from back in February, are being looked at in the worst way possible right now when there is a much more Bulls-centric (and positive) viewpoint. The backend of LaVine’s remarks could (and arguably should) be seen as a challenge to teammate Lauri Markkanen.
All About Perspective
While he led, without hesitation, by speaking up James’ passing ability, but the closing line “sometimes playing with a dominant big man can be great too.” more appropriately applies to Markkanen than James.
LaVine even compares James’ passing ability to a guard. James has also been at his best when paired with a big; i.e. Anthony Davis, Kevin Love, and Chris Bosh.
We have seen Markkanen be dominant too. It has almost become cliche at this point, but all Bulls fans can tell you about the stretch in 2018 when he averaged 26.5 points and 12.6 boards. But everything since has been chasing that fleeting feeling. This season, he only hit the 20-point mark 10 times in 50 games. He had double-digit rebounds in just four games.
When the Dust Settles
Make no mistake about it, Markkanen (14.7/6.3/1.5 this season) probably has the highest ceiling of any player on the roster. It’s why Karnisovas and Eversley made it public they would have a plan for him specifically and why Pippen still has faith in him.
At some point, though, that potential has to be realized. Markkanen, who has also reportedly talked of demanding a trade should ‘changes’ not be made, seemed out of place in the new offense of last season. Fixing that could see him get back on the trajectory most thought he was on coming into the season.
If Chicago can get that guy back, then the latter part of LaVine’s comments will come to fruition in Chicago instead of Los Angeles.
Context always matters when viewing someone’s words after the fact. In this instance, it really doesn’t make a difference if LaVine’s remarks were all about James. The Bulls can make it a reality and they don’t even have to go outside the organization to do so.
Now, if they could just sort out Boylen’s situation…