Only a couple of weeks ago, the Chicago Bulls looked like top NBA title contenders. However, seven losses in their last nine games have dropped the Bulls to third in the Eastern Conference. Critical injuries to Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso threaten the team’s long-term functionality. Fortunately for Chicago, Zach LaVine is on the cusp of returning, and it could not come at a better time.
LaVine suffered a knee injury during a Jan. 14 matchup with the Golden State Warriors. Despite walking off the floor on his own power, concern arose because the issue occurred in the same knee where LaVine tore his ACL back in 2017. But the All-Star 2-guard’s MRI came back clean, and he’s gearing up for perhaps the most crucial stretch of basketball in his entire career.
Zach LaVine should return to the Bulls this week
Although a clean MRI certainly provided good news to Zach LaVine and the Bulls, the team never set a specific timetable for his return. It’s only right Chicago would choose to exhibit caution given LaVine’s status as a franchise player.
That said, LaVine has responded well to treatment and made rapid gains in his recovery. His return appears imminent, with Bulls head coach Billy Donovan saying LaVine will meet the team for Monday’s matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The 26-year-old is not guaranteed to make his return against the Thunder. Still, the fact that he has consistently been upgraded on injury reports and is traveling for a one-game road trip is telling. If nothing else, it’s likely that LaVine is back before the end of the week.
A desperate Bulls team will embrace LaVine with open arms. DeMar DeRozan, despite his continued excellence, needs his co-star if Chicago hopes to right the ship.
LaVine’s star status has never been important as a depleted Bulls team hopes to recover
At this point, the Bulls almost just need bodies.
Chicago already sustained tough news when scans revealed Lonzo Ball had a slight tear in his meniscus. Grayson Allen’s hard foul on Alex Caruso drew the Bulls’ ire and robbed the team of another vital backcourt piece, with Caruso out 6-to-8 weeks with a fractured wrist.
That’s hardly the extent of Chicago’s injuries. High-energy swingman Javonte Green hasn’t played in over three weeks. Derrick Jones Jr. is on the shelf for at least a month with a bone bruise in his right knee.
With numerous players injured and the Bulls struggling to get back on track, LaVine’s return comes at a crucial juncture.
Chicago has gotten strong guard play from Coby White and rookie Ayo Dosunmu. But the Bulls are missing a true second star, as Nikola Vucevic’s inconsistency consistently bites them from behind. LaVine is that second star.
The UCLA product is one of the best scorers (24.9 points per game) in the NBA. He’s also one of the most efficient, scoring 1.25 points per possession, according to StatMuse. That offensive brilliance lessens the playmaking load on Chicago’s young backcourt, which is no small detail considering turnovers have been a real issue for the Bulls as of late.
Indeed, LaVine’s star-caliber scoring ability can give the Bulls some life. With Ball and Caruso out, this is also his time to take more ownership and — as an impending free agent — make his push for a supermax contract.
LaVine also has financial incentives for playing great ball
Considering he’s never been to the playoffs in his career, that’s likely priority No. 1 for Zach LaVine as he attempts to galvanize the Bulls. But he also has huge financial incentives to play well in the last few months.
LaVine hits the free-agent market this summer and can become eligible for a $235 million supermax if he makes an All-NBA team. He hinted at wanting to stay in the Windy City before the season began, and the Bulls are guaranteed to give him a fat contract if he can help Chicago recover and stay at the top of the Eastern Conference.
The winters in Chicago can be dark and gloomy. It’s looked all the bleaker for Bulls fans in recent weeks despite such a promising start to the campaign. However, LaVine is the kind of star-caliber player who can turn the tide and officially cement his place as one of the best players in the NBA.