Zach LaVine

Bulls Notes: LaVine, Mirotic, Valentine

After an 11-month absence, Zach LaVine made his Bulls debut Saturday night. Vincent Goodwill of NBC Sports Chicago writes that the solid showing serves as an excellent first step for the player who remains the centerpiece of the Jimmy Butler trade.

LaVine put up what seemed like an effortless 14 points in just 19 minutes of action in his first game of the year, but it’s his general playing style that will make Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg‘s life easier as the young team looks to develop into a winner.

“He’s such a smooth player and has a lot of confidence,” Hoiberg said. “To get out there back on the floor and with his teammates, I thought he played very effective and efficient. He played within himself.”

There’s more out of the Central Division tonight:

  • In the same NBC Sports Chicago feature, Goodwill writes that the 22-year-old LaVine has and wants to be considered “the guy.” “I always thought of myself on being able to be ‘the guy.’ And being able to go out there, put the team on your back, city on your back, and I want to work to be that guy,” LaVine said.
  • Although the team has thrived since his return, Nikola Mirotic remains intent on leaving the Bulls via trade, Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times writes. There is a sense that Mirotic and the team have reached an impasse when it comes to repairing the tension between him and Bobby Portis.
  • The return of Zach LaVine has bumped Denzel Valentine to the second-unit. K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune notes that the 24-year-old handled the move professionally. Head coach Fred Hoiberg opted to push Valentine to the second unit, instead of Justin Holiday, because he has fared better with the team’s bench players and can be featured more as a playmaker alongside them.

Central Notes: LaVine, Mirotic, Felder, Bucks

Zach LaVine will be in the starting lineup when he makes his debut with the Bulls tonight, according to Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times. LaVine’s recovery from a torn left ACL took about 11 months, which is about two months longer than originally projected, but Chicago wanted to be sure he was fully healthy before letting him play.

“Extremely excited, ready to get back to playing again,” LaVine said. “You wait all this time, do all this rehab. It doesn’t simulate actual games. Going through practices and scrimmages don’t give you that full itch. Now I have something I can go after.”

LaVine will take over the starting spot occupied by Denzel Valentine, who has started 31 of the team’s 42 games. Justin Holiday will stay in the starting lineup, but will move to small forward. Coach Fred Hoiberg said LaVine will be restricted to 20 minutes per game for about a week, then his playing time will slowly expand.

There’s more news from the Central Division:

  • Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic is refusing to discuss his trade prospects, writes Chris Kuc of The Chicago Tribune. Mirotic, who has been linked to deals involving the Jazz, Pistons and Trail Blazers, will become eligible for a trade Monday. “To be honest I don’t listen too much to what is going on outside,” he said. “I just focus on what is going on here and up to my last day try to be the best player possible and be professional and help this team to be able to win.”
  • Kay Felder, who signed a two-way deal with the Pistons today, has been talking to the organization for a couple of weeks, tweets Vince Ellis of The Detroit Free Press. The Pistons first contacted Felder when starting point guard Reggie Jackson suffered a sprained right ankle in late December. Felder, who has previous NBA experience with the Cavaliers and Bulls, will have 23 NBA days under his new deal and may spend most of that time filling in for Jackson, who isn’t expected back until after the All-Star break.
  • Bucks ownership remains hopeful for a 50-win season despite an up-and-down first half of the year, relays Rich Kirchen of The Milwaukee Business Journal. The Bucks hit the midpoint at 22-19, but there are reasons for optimism with the expected return of Jabari Parker next month and a possible trade for a center before the February 8 deadline. “I think 50 [wins] is tough,” said co-owner Marc Lasry. “We’ll be over 45. Hopefully we get to 50. That would be great. I hope so, but it’s going to be hard.”

Zach LaVine To Make Bulls Debut On Saturday

Zach LaVine, one of the pieces acquired by the Bulls in last summer’s Jimmy Butler blockbuster, will make his long-awaited debut for his new team this Saturday against the Pistons, executive VP John Paxson confirmed today (Twitter link via K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune).

According to Paxson, the Bulls plan to take a “conservative” approach with LaVine for the next few weeks. That means he’ll start out playing approximately 20 minutes per game, and won’t appear in back-to-back games before the All-Star break (Twitter link via Vincent Goodwill of NBC Sports Chicago).

Paxson told reporters today that LaVine had badly wanted to get back on the court Wednesday night in New York against the Knicks. However, the Bulls wanted to make sure he had a few more practices under his belt before he makes his return from an ACL injury that has sidelined him since last February (Twitter link via ESPN’s Nick Friedell).

LaVine was sent from Minnesota to Chicago back in June, along with Kris Dunn and No. 7 overall pick Lauri Markkanen, in exchange for Butler and No. 16 pick Justin Patton. While the Bulls’ return for Butler was panned at the time, both Dunn and Markkanen have displayed real promise in the first half of this season. If LaVine can approximate or improve upon his 2016/17 performance (18.9 PPG on .459/.387/.836 shooting), the Bulls will have three legitimate, long-term building blocks on their hands as a result of that trade.

LaVine, who turns 23 in March, will be eligible for restricted free agency this summer, but the Bulls are expected to re-sign him or match any offer sheet he receives.

Central Notes: Cavs, Payne, Bolomboy

The Cavaliers recently lost five of seven games and it’s not even the first time that the team has hit that milestone this season. Consider it a bump in the road that the team can live with, Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com writes.

We know who we are now, what we want to do. Sometimes even when you know you still take some bumps along that road. That’s OK,” LeBron James said, adding that the team embroiled in a rough patch now is in a better place than the earlier version of the Cavaliers that stumbled at the beginning of the season.

Before Saturday, the Cavaliers had lost five straight on the road, a concerning slide considering that they have three more games left on their current road trip.

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • Injured Bulls point guard Cameron Payne has been cleared for increased activity, K.C. Jonson of the Chicago Tribune tweets. He adds that a final decision on Zach LaVine‘s return date will be made tomorrow.
  • While they haven’t said so specifically, the Bucks may have strategically converted and waived Joel Bolomboy earlier today to dissuade teams from scooping him up off of waivers, Matt Velasquez of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel writes. As things stand, a team will need to sign him for the remainder of the season if they claim him.
  • The Cavaliers have no intention of using the $4.8MM trade exception created in the Kyle Korver deal last season, Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com writes. With no roster vacancies and a monstrous luxury tax bill as it is, such a revelation isn’t particularly surprising.

Central Notes: Rose, Thomas, LaVine

Cavaliers point guard Derrick Rose could return during the team’s current five-game road trip. When he does, the former NBA Most Valuable Player will take away some playing time from veteran Dwyane Wade, head coach Tyronn Lue told reporters, including Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com.

“I think playing D Wade on a lot of back to backs has been tough for him,” Lue said. “Some games where he doesn’t feel great, but we don’t really have the extra ball handler to sit him. So when D Rose gets back, he’ll definitely help with that and help with D Wade getting his rest and being able to feel good on the floor.”

Rose, 29, has not played since he went down with an ankle injury on November 7. Shortly after the injury, Rose took an indefinite leave from the team, leading many to believe he was contemplating retirement. However, Rose has since denied he was looking to leave the NBA and expressed excitement to pursue a championship with Cleveland.

In seven games before the injury, Rose averaged 14.3 PPG, 2.6 RPG, and 1.7 APG in 26.9 minutes per game.

Check out other Central Division news and notes below:

  • One night after making his season debut, Isaiah Thomas was forced to sit Cleveland’s road contest against his former team, the Celtics, in Boston. The Cavaliers are being cautious with Thomas’ return from a hip injury that sidelined him for over seven months. As Sean Deveney of Sporting News writes, the difference in Cleveland’s performance without Thomas after just one night was noticeable.
  • Zach LaVine has made progress in his recovery from a torn ACL and the Bulls hope to set an exact return date for the two-time Dunk Contest champion next week, per USA TODAY Sports. LaVine, 22, was the Bulls’ significant acquisition as part of the offseason’s Jimmy Butler trade.

Bulls Notes: LaVine, Dunn, Future

Zach LaVine, the Bulls’ key acquisition in the offseason deal that sent Jimmy Butler to Minnesota, is nearing his season debut after a pair of practices with Chicago’s G League affiliate, per NBA.com. LaVine has been rehabbing from a torn ACL he suffered with the Timberwolves last season.

LaVine, 22, was averaging a career-high 18.9 PPG last season before his year was cut short due to injury. Despite their poor 13-24 record, the Bulls have looked better recently, behind the return of Nikola Mirotic and strong play from Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen. If LaVine can return to last year’s form — or anything close to it — Chicago will be incorporating an explosive guard who can score and dunk with the best of them. LaVine is a two-time NBA Slam Dunk Contest winner.

However, LaVine’s impending return could alter the Bulls’ lineup and playing time for players such as Dunn.

Check out other news out of the Bulls organization below:

  • Speaking of Dunn, he has emerged as a closer for the Bulls, a trusted player who the team wants to have the ball in his hands late in games, Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times writes. However, with LaVine’s return on the horizon, head coach Fred Hoiberg realizes the team could be adding the team’s best scoring weapon. “Yeah, he is another guy that can give you that,’’ Hoiberg said. “[LaVine] obviously gives you another really good shot-maker. Probably the best shot-maker on the team.’’
  • Vincent Goodwill of NBC Sports Chicago gives a similar take on the LaVine situation. After Dunn failed to make a potential game-winning shot against the Trail Blazers, it served as a reminder that the Bulls are playing without arguably their best shooter in LaVine.
  • After that loss to the Trail Blazers, the once-surging Bulls may need to accept their reality for this season, ESPN.com’s Nick Friedell writes. If the Bulls choose not to break up the roster, the team could reach 30 wins — especially with LaVine due back soon — but the front office’s goal was and is to secure the strongest draft position possible.

Central Notes: LaVine, Rose, Shumpert, R. Jackson

When they stumbled their way to a 3-20 start, no team seemed less likely to have a seven-game winning streak than the Bulls. But that’s what happened, and their improbable play since December 8 has given them the league’s best record during that span at 10-2. With Zach LaVine due back soon, the only thing that could dampen spirits in Chicago is a rumored trade involving Nikola Mirotic or Robin Lopez, writes K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune.

Trade rumors began when the Bulls appeared headed for a high lottery pick and Mirotic was sidelined by facial fractures from a preseason fight with teammate Bobby Portis. Those two have resolved their differences enough to co-exist on the court, and Chicago has pulled to within five games of a playoff spot.

“We’re playing so well you don’t want to interfere with that,” LaVine said about the possibility of a deal. “But that’s not a decision for me or anybody on the team. We go out there to play and win and prove ourselves and impress. That’s what we’re going to do.”

There’s more tonight from the Central Division:

  • Today marked the first of six straight contact practices scheduled for LaVine as he works his way back from ACL surgery, Johnson adds in the same story. LaVine, who was averaging 18.9 points per game for the Timberwolves before the injury last season, said he feels “close” to returning. “I’ve actually picked things up pretty quickly,” he said of the Bulls’ offense. “The main thing is just doing a lot of conditioning. I like being one of the best in-shape dudes out there. I’m getting that down. The touch and feel comes back the more you play.”
  • There’s also positive health news regarding the Cavaliers, relays Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com. In addition to the imminent debut of Isaiah Thomas, Cleveland expects to have Derrick Rose and Iman Shumpert back soon. Rose has been sidelined since December 7 with bone spurs and a sprained ankle, while Shumpert hasn’t played since having meniscus surgery December 1. “D Rose looked good the other day,” said coach Tyronn Lue. “First time I seen him run without a limp. He was going through some stuff. He was doing three-man weave with a lot of pace and speed. … You know Shump, he’s always healing faster than he’s supposed to, so he’s coming along well also.”
  • Pistons point guard Reggie Jackson can’t start his rehab process until the swelling goes down in his injured right foot, tweets Rod Beard of The Detroit News. That’s expected to happen in about two weeks.

Central Rumors: Buycks, Teletovic, LaVine

Dwight Buycks hopes he can prove that he’s worthy of a standard contract now that Pistons point guard Reggie Jackson is out at least 6-8 weeks with a severe ankle sprain, as he told Keith Langlois of Pistons.com. Detroit signed Buycks to a two-way contract but he spurned a two-year deal because he hoped to eventually earn a spot on a 15-man roster, Langlois continues. Buycks, along with combo guard Langston Galloway, are the two in-house options to back up Ish Smith until Jackson returns. “This is my dream, to be here and be here permanently,” Buycks said. “It’s up to me to put the work in and be successful out here.” Buycks had previous stints with the Raptors and Lakers but hadn’t appeared in a league game since the 2014/15 season until he played two minutes against the Pacers on Tuesday.

In other news around the Central Division:

  • Forward Mirza Teletovic could be sidelined until late in the season, which would put the Bucks in the market for a shooter, Gery Woelfel of Woelfel’s Press Box reports. Teletovic was diagnosed with pulmonary emboli in his lungs earlier this month. Teletovic will be sidelined for at least three more months, sources told Woelfel. Without him, Milwaukee is vulnerable on the perimeter offensively.  “They just don’t have outside shooters,” a veteran advance scout told Woelfel. “I see that as their biggest weakness.’’
  • Shooting guard Zach LaVine has run out of patience waiting for the Bulls to let him return to action, he told Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times and other media members. LaVine, who tore his ACL in February playing for the Timberwolves, has been practicing with the team and its G League affiliate for over a month but has yet to make his season debut. ‘‘I know I feel like I can play right now,’’ he said.

Central Notes: Dunn, LaVine, Oladipo

The Bulls have every reason to be pleased with the production they’ve gotten out of point guard Kris Dunn but that doesn’t mean that the second-year player is necessarily satisfied, K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune writes.

My offensive game is getting there, but that can be polished,” Dunn said, noting that his top priority for improvement is on the defensive side. In 11 December games for the Bulls, Dunn has averaged 15.0 points, 7.7 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 2.0 steals per contest.

Dunn credits Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg for putting the pressure on him to compete with Jerian Grant for the starting gig, a role that he didn’t formally take over until late November.

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • There may finally be a timetable for the return of Zach LaVine. Vincent Goodwill of NBC Sports Chicago tweets that the guard will try to make it through six consecutive Bulls practices after December 30. If he does so without issue, he’ll play.
  • The Cavaliers will tip off against the Warriors on Christmas Day but don’t get it twisted, LeBron James‘ favorite place to play after Santa Claus comes is a bit further south at the Staples Center, Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com writes. Queue another onslaught of LeBron-to-L.A. hype.
  • The trade that sent Victor Oladipo from the Thunder to the Pacers appears to have motivated the 25-year-old, even if he doesn’t say so himself. “He’s come into the season with confidence, I think, to prove himself,” head coach Nate McMillan told Buddy Grizzard of Basketball Insiders. “After a couple moves from Orlando to OKC and then to Indy, there was a lot of conversation out there that the Pacers didn’t get enough in that trade. I think he is proving to the league that he does have talent. We are still learning what he’s capable of.

Zach LaVine May Not Return Until January

While there’s still no specific target date for Zach LaVine‘s debut with the Bulls, he appears likely to return from his ACL injury in January rather than December, according to dispatches from K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune and Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times.

Speaking today to reporters, including Johnson and Cowley, Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg said that LaVine is still practicing every other day — that schedule figures to remain in place for another week or two. After that, the fourth-year guard will need to show that he’s capable of handling an everyday practice schedule before the Bulls are ready to have him appear in a game.

“The big thing is he needs to string together a good 10 days of practice to where he’s not going every other day,” Hoiberg said of LaVine. “I would say the next 10 days is not going to happen. He’s still going to be on the every other day program at least for another 10 days to two weeks, and then we’ll take it from there as far as getting him consecutive-day workouts, and then get him back shortly after that.”

There should be no rush for the Bulls to get LaVine back into their lineup, despite the fact that he was one of the key pieces acquired in June’s Jimmy Butler blockbuster. The club currently holds the NBA’s worst record, at 3-19, and is a much stronger contender for the No. 1 overall pick than for a playoff spot. LaVine will be a restricted free agent in 2018, at which point the Bulls are expected to lock him up to a long-term deal, so it’s more important that he’s healthy and productive in future seasons.

Once LaVine is ready to make his Bulls debut, he’ll likely start off by playing about 12 to 18 minutes per night, Hoiberg said today.

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