Bulls star Zach LaVine was on the bench for the final three minutes and 43 seconds of the team’s 108-107 loss to Orlando on Friday and was “obviously frustrated” when he spoke to reporters after the game about the decision, writes K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago.
LaVine had scored just four points on 1-of-14 shooting in his first 25 minutes and was a team-worst minus-19 on the night. When head coach Billy Donovan replaced him with Ayo Dosunmu, the Bulls were down 101-97. The team subsequently went on a 10-2 run before ultimately losing the game on a Jalen Suggs three-pointer with five seconds remaining.
“That’s Billy’s decision. He gotta lay with it,” LaVine said, per Johnson. “Do I agree with it? No. I think I can go out there and still be me even if I miss some shots. But that’s his decision. He has to stand on it.
“I’ve missed a lot of shots, man. But I’ve had a lot of games where I played terrible and in four to five minutes, I can get 15, 16 points. I just wasn’t able to shoot the next shot.”
In addition to his struggles on offense, LaVine looked “a step slow” on defense, according to Johnson. The two-time All-Star said he wasn’t sure whether he’d talk to Donovan to seek out an explanation for the decision, but the Bulls’ head coach offered one voluntarily during his own postgame media session.
“He had a tough night shooting and I thought that group really fought their way back into the game,” Donovan said, referring to the five-man unit of Dosunmu, DeMar DeRozan, Nikola Vucevic, Alex Caruso, and Javonte Green. “I played DeMar the whole second half. He seemed like he was fine physically. I came back to Zach and it was one of those games for him. He just didn’t have a great game. Great players, it happens. He cares deeply about the team. He just wasn’t playing well.
“… I’m sure he’s really disappointed. He’s a really, really competitive guy. I love working with him every day. He’s about the team. I know how much he puts into it and how much it means to him,” Donovan continued, adding that he wasn’t worried about the move having any long-term ramifications.
“The ramifications of him not being out there, to me, I was trying to do what was best for our team in that moment. That’s my job and my responsibility. I thought that was the best decision at the time. To me, I don’t look at it as anything else other than a one-off game. I know he wanted to be out there. There probably aren’t very many games in his career that he hasn’t been out there in those minutes. But that group was playing well.”
LaVine is coming off an eventful summer in which he underwent left knee surgery and also signed a five-year, maximum-salary contract worth approximately $215MM. He has missed a few games already this season as the Bulls manage his recovery from that surgery and has yet to fully hit his stride — his 20.7 points per game and 41.5% shooting percentage are his lowest marks since he averaged 16.7 PPG on 38.3% shooting in an injury-shortened 2017/18 season, his first year in Chicago.
Although LaVine wasn’t thrilled by having to watch the deciding moments of a close loss – the Bulls’ fourth in a row – from the sidelines, he said on Friday night that he’ll try to move past it.
“Obviously, I have to do a better job at the beginning of the game. I gotta make my shots,” LaVine said. “But you play a guy like me down the stretch. That’s what I do. Do I like the decision? No. Do I gotta live with it? Yeah and be ready to put my shoes on and play the next game.”