After earning two All-Star nominations in the last three years and working his way onto some of the Chicago Bulls' most prolific all-time leaderboards, Zach LaVine had all the momentum necessary to become a legendary figure in this team's franchise history. Instead, he has chosen to go down a different road and gotten himself entangled in headlines for all the wrong reasons.
To call this a down year for LaVine would be an understatement. After averaging 25.4 points per game on 48.9% shooting from the field in his last three seasons with the Bulls, Zach's production has fallen off a cliff, now averaging just 21 points per game on 44.3% shooting. As a result, the Bulls have stumbled to a 5-13 record in games LaVine has played this year.
At this point, it would be dishonest to say LaVine hasn't gotten a fair shot to prove himself in Chicago. He has proven himself. He's proven that he's a great player, but not one that can lead a team to consistently win games — much less contend for an NBA championship.
In light of this, I can't say I'm surprised to see today's news regarding LaVine. Shams Charania of The Athletic reports that Zach is set to miss a week with "right foot soreness", at a very convenient time when his name is being heavily included in trade rumors.
Bulls All-Star Zach LaVine is set to miss a week due to a suspicious diagnosis of "foot soreness".
If this had happened in any of LaVine's previous six seasons in Chicago, this would have been considered a devastating temporary injury that would've left the lineup short-handed and without much hope of winning any games. This year, however, is a different story. The Bulls may actually be better off with LaVine's antics on the court, at least for the time being.
If the Bulls' most recent game against the Milwaukee Bucks, that might not be such a bad thing. Without LaVine and fellow All-Star DeMar DeRozan to lead the charge, the Bulls ironically looked better than ever, pulling off the unsuspected upset in a 120-113 overtime effort. The ball moved much more freely in the absence of Zach and DeMar, while Chicago's defense also looked dramatically better under Billy Donovan's new-look starting five.
Of course, it's impossible to ignore the fact that this injury timeline might be far more intentional than the Bulls are letting on. Truthfully, there's a rather strong possibility that this injury is completely fabricated. Trade rumors involving LaVine are growing louder and stronger than ever, and one has to think this injury is nothing more than a well-timed excuse to preserve LaVine for whoever his new team might be.
If a trade is truly pending, Zach could be getting intentionally sat out of these games due to a conflict of interests, at the behest of any interested trade partners who don't want him to risk injury, or even simply because the Bulls have finally decided they want to let the youth take the reigns. Regardless of which it is, we may not know for sure until the December 15 deadline passes, when players who signed new contracts this summer (approximately a third of the entire league) become trade-eligible.