Zach LaVine

Zach LaVine Would Like To Have Input On Bulls’ Roster Moves

Zach LaVine has arguably been the Bulls‘ most important player through the first half of the season. He’s a borderline All-Star candidate and any chance of Chicago making the postseason likely hinges on his success.

So does he expect to be involved in the team’s decisions leading up to the trade deadline? Not necessarily, though he would embrace that kind of power, as Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times relays.

“I mean if they come to me and let me know, I think it would be great,’’ LaVine said of the team speaking with him about potential moves. “If not I’m not taking offense to it either. It’s not something that I’m asking for.

“I know what I stand for. I’m trying to help us get there and I don’t think you can question what my intentions are.’’

Thaddeus Young and Kris Dunn could both be on the move. The Clippers have interest in each player, sources tell Cowley, though Los Angeles could simply wait until the offseason to pursue Dunn, as he will be a restricted free agent.

Central Notes: Middleton, LaVine, Cavaliers, Budenholzer

Sharpshooting Bucks All-Star wing Khris Middleton has been a key part of Milwaukee’s blistering 31-5 season start. He spoke with The Athletic’s Sam Amick at length about his tenure in Milwaukee, his chemistry with 2019 MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, and the team’s outlook.

“So far, we’ve been special this season,” Middleton relayed to Amick. “But we know it’s just the regular season. That end goal of being the last team standing is our main focus.” The Bucks finished the 2018/19 season with a league-best 60-22 record, but fell to the eventual champion Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals.

“We lose Malcolm [Brogdon, to the Pacers in free agency], a big piece of what we did last year,” Middleton continued. “But the guys we had in the locker room were guys who we still felt could get the job done.” Antetokounmpo’s offensive improvement this season has helped, too. His play with the Bucks has already put him in the driver’s seat for earning repeat MVP honors.

There’s more out of the Central Division:

  • Despite an intimidating January schedule, optimistic Bulls guard Zach LaVine remains confident in his team’s ability to compete for a playoff spot in the East. “We understand the position we’re in,” LaVine said, according to Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times. “I think we’ve thrown some games away. I think we should be right in that hunt. As poorly as we’ve played some nights, we can still make up for it.”
  • The Cavaliers continue to struggle in late-game situations this season, Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com writes. They coughed up a lead in the fourth quarter yet again tonight, this time in a 109-106 loss to Charlotte. Fedor notes that this failure to close games is a symptom of the team’s young, relatively green roster.
  • Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer was named the NBA’s Eastern Conference Coach of the Month for December, according to Bucks.com. Milwaukee boasted the league’s best record at 13-2, and led the NBA in offensive rating (115.5) and defensive rating (99.3).

Central Notes: Middleton, Thompson, Holidays, LaVine

Khris Middleton is making his new five-year, $178MM contract seem like a wise investment, writes Matt Velazquez of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Middleton has become more efficient, putting up numbers close to his career averages in just 27.8 minutes per game, the fewest since his rookie season. The 29-5 Bucks have been so dominant that they haven’t had to rely as heavily on their top players.

Middleton is averaging 18.7 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game, and his numbers rise to 24.1/7.2/4.9 on a per-36-minute basis. He is making a strong bid for his second straight All-Star appearance, even though he’s not as well known as many other stars.

“I think that’s the way he likes it; he’s going to go out there and do his job every night regardless of if people recognize him or not,” teammate Brook Lopez said. “It’s not important to him. I think – I don’t think, I know – the guys in the locker room and on the coaching staff appreciate what he does, no question, night in and night out. That’s what matters to him. He’s just trying to go out there and win.”

Here’s more from around the Central:

 There’s more from the Central Division:
  • Tristan Thompson is too important to the Cavaliers‘ future to be traded away, argues Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com. Thompson is one of four expiring contracts left on Cleveland’s roster after this week’s trade of Jordan Clarkson, and Fedor thinks the Cavs should try to re-sign him to help stabilize the rebuilding process. Not only is Thompson excelling on the court, averaging 12.8 points and 10.1 rebounds per night, but he is seen as a leader by his young teammates and was an outspoken defender of John Beilein after reports surfaced earlier this month that many players had lost confidence in their new coach.
  • History was made last night in New Orleans as Pacers guards Aaron Holiday and Justin Holiday were on the court at the same time as their brother, Jrue, notes Scott Agness of The Athletic. Justin opted to sign with Indiana as a free agent over the summer so he could play alongside his little brother. “He’s just being there and helping me feel more comfortable,” Aaron said. “He’s been in the league for a while so he knows the ropes, and I’m pretty much just following his lead. He’s obviously a leader at heart and in the way he works.”
  • Zach LaVine is thinking about returning to the dunk contest to try to reclaim his title, relays Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times. The Bulls guard won the competition in 2015 and 2016. ‘‘I know I’ve still got some dunks left, and my legs have been feeling good,” he said. “Maybe I’ll have to go practice, but I don’t know yet. I’ll probably have to let the NBA know soon.’’

Bulls Notes: Hutchinson, LaVine, Markkanen

Chandler Hutchison‘s right shoulder contusion will keep him out through next week, the Bulls announced on their website. The wing suffered the injury in Tuesday’s contest against Golden State and there was fear that he suffered a dislocation or labrum tear.

Here’s more from Chicago:

  • While Jim Boylen has clashed with Zach LaVine more than any other Bulls’ player, the coach knows just how much the team needs the shooting guard to stay in the playoff race in the Eastern Conference, Sam Smith of NBA.com writes. LaVine has been Chicago’s best player this season and several other players have taken turns going through rough stretches.
  • The Bulls shouldn’t give up on Lauri Markkanen yet, Smith contends in the same piece. While putting him on the table in a trade offer for someone like San Antonio’s LaMarcus Aldridge or Indiana’s Domantas Sabonis may solve a short-term problem, Markkanen has too much talent and untapped upside to sell low on.
  • Kris Dunn has been a pleasant surprise for the Bulls this season, Smith adds in the same piece. Dunn was the subject of trade chatter over the summer with the team adding point guard talent, but the former No. 5 overall pick has settled into a productive bench role with the team. Smith argues that Chicago should roll out more three-guard lineups with Dunn in them.

Bulls Notes: Markkanen, LaVine, Carter, Kornet

Of all the issues holding down the Bulls, none is more baffling than the slow start by Lauri Markkanen, writes Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times. A tense two-game stretch ended on a positive note Saturday as Zach LaVine resolved trust issues with coach Jim Boylen and put up 49 points in a dramatic win at Charlotte. However, Cowley notes that Markkanen was on the bench as the Bulls finished off their comeback.

“Well, I didn’t think Lauri played poorly,’’ Boylen said afterward. “He did not shoot the ball how we know he can shoot it. I did not think he played poorly. Just like Zach, just like Coby [White], just like [Kris Dunn], just like [Ryan Arcidiacono], just like everybody, Wendell [Carter], I’m going to keep coaching and my staff is going to keep coaching. Just try to keep leading these guys in the right direction. We’re going to keep looking at it.’’

Markkanen’s scoring average is down about five points from last season and his shooting percentage has dropped from 43.0% to 35.4%. Cowley cites increasing concern in the organization that he and LaVine might not be effective together. Rumors of a possible Markkanen trade have emerged recently, although a source in the organization strongly denied it.

There’s more Bulls news to pass along:

  • Chicago is giving fewer minutes to its best players than anyone else in the league, which may contribute to any chemistry issues between LaVine and Markkanen, notes Sam Smith of Bulls.com. The Bulls have 10 players averaging at least 20 minutes per game, while most teams have six or seven. Both LaVine and Markkanen have seen their court time fall about 10% from last season.
  • Coaches are working with Carter to try to get his foul trouble under control, relays K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago. The second-year center is averaging 12.9 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, but he’s also committing 4.2 fouls, which limits his time on the court. “I don’t know if it’s that I’m being too aggressive,” Carter said. “I talk to the refs. Every time I pick up my early fouls, I always try to ask them what exactly am I doing wrong. It seems my body is out of position or my hands are down. It’s just a concentration thing with me. I just have to go into the game knowing that I can’t be picking up early fouls.”
  • Backup center Luke Kornet has been cleared for basketball work a week after having nasal surgery, Johnson tweets.

Zach LaVine, Jim Boylen Address Trust Issue

Head coach Jim Boylen met with Zach LaVine today after the Bulls’ star complained about a lack of trust in last night’s game, tweets K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago.

In comments relayed by Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports, LaVine believed he was being singled out when Boylen removed him from Friday’s game after Miami built a 13-0 lead in the first 3:27. It was the latest in a series of slow starts that have contributed to Chicago’s disappointing 5-11 record.

“I thought, ‘He needs a break,’” Boylen said to reporters. “I thought he needed to come in and think about it. I felt there were some defensive mistakes that didn’t need to be made. I thought he needed to come over and think about it for a minute.”

But that’s not how it was interpreted by LaVine, who has experienced an uneven relationship with Boylen since he took over as head coach last December. LaVine saw the move as a personal slight and an indication that he doesn’t have the trust of the coaching staff.

“I feel I earned that trust, but I guess he feels differently,” LaVine said. “Other players around the league — and everybody’s situation isn’t the same — I feel other players around the league have that trust. I guess we haven’t got there.”

Along with the team’s poor record, it has been a difficult season on a personal level for LaVine, who doesn’t look comfortable in a new system that emphasizes three-point shooting. After putting up career-high numbers last year with 23.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.5 assists per night, LaVine’s scoring average has fallen to 19.8 PPG this season and his shooting percentage from the field has dropped to 40.9%.

LaVine said he’s “trying my best” to maintain a good relationship with Boylen, but incidents like Friday’s make it challenging.

“I’m playing my minutes and trying to do the best I can do,” LaVine said. “It’s tough, especially when you’re in a rut. If he doesn’t trust me, it’s hard to trust someone who doesn’t trust you.”

Boylen told Johnson that he and LaVine had a “great talk” about the situation today and they share the “same goals” for the team. He added that “everything was explained” about what happened last night and LaVine was shown clips of the defensive mistakes that led to his brief benching. Boylen added that trust isn’t an issue (Twitter link).

LaVine said he was candid with Boylen in their meeting, stating, “I let him know how I felt. We had a misunderstanding. We still have a lot to work on as a team — personal, coaching. We all have to be accountable for our actions.” (Twitter link).

After being told that Boylen is holding him to a higher standard because he cares for him, LaVine responded, “That’s what he told me. To each his own. If that’s how he feels he has to coach me, that’s his prerogative. I can be coached any way. I don’t backlash a lot (Twitter link)But when I feel disrespected, sometimes I have to stand up for myself. We talked about the offense, the defense, personal stuff. I think it was good. We both want to win. If I’m not doing as good as I can do, it’s not gonna be good for team (Twitter link).

“If he feels he has to get on me to help that, I’m all for that. I want to be a winning guy. I haven’t won anything in the NBA. That’s why it gets frustrating (Twitter link).”

Central Notes: Mitrou-Long, Markkanen, Griffin, Drummond

Injuries have thrust Pacers two-way players Naz Mitrou-Long and Brian Bowen into action more than anticipated in the early going, Mark Monteith of the team’s website notes. Backcourt injuries forced Indiana to play Mitrou-Long 14 minutes on Saturday one night after he scored 28 points for its G League affiliate, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants. Bowen made a five-minute appearance in the loss to Milwaukee.

We have more from the Central Division:

  • Bulls forward Lauri Markkanen hasn’t reached the 20-point mark since scoring 35 points in the season opener and shooting guard Zach LaVine is looking to change that, K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago relays. “He just doesn’t seem in rhythm right now man. It’s a new offense. And I think it has a part to do with it,” LaVine said. “We’ve just got to help him find it.”
  • Injuries to Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose have contributed greatly to the Pistons’ 4-9 start. With some days off and both stars back in action, coach Dwane Casey is hoping to get things back on track, Keith Langlois of the team’s website writes. “We’ve got three or four days we can practice,” he said. “Before, there was one day in between.  … Sounds like an excuse. But it’s going to take a while for our guys to jell together, work together, learn each other. With Blake and Derrick back, for them to learn each other. It’s going to be a marathon.”
  • The Pistons will have to consider drastic changes if they don’t break the cycle of mediocrity soon, Rod Beard of the Detroit News writes. The trade for Griffin hasn’t resulted in a huge uptick in the team’s fortunes, Beard continues. Andre Drummond, who can become an unrestricted free agent next summer, hasn’t impacted winning significantly enough to warrant another long-term deal in many people’s minds, Beard adds.

Bulls Notes: LaVine, Markkanen, Carter, Anthony

A lethargic offense has doomed the Bulls in a 4-9 start, but Zach LaVine doesn’t believe they need to change their approach, relays Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times. The Bulls were 27th in offensive efficiency heading into Saturday, and although they are placing a new emphasis on 3-pointers, ranking eighth in the league in attempts at 35.5 per game, they are shooting just 32.5% from beyond the arc, which ranks 24th.

“We get stagnant a lot out there,’’ LaVine said after Saturday’s loss to the Nets. “We’ll run one action and then everybody is staring at the person with the ball. We gotta get more fluid. I don’t feel a lot of people are in rhythm. When that happens, obviously everybody starts trying to do it themselves. It’s tough. I blame myself. I try to do that as well. I’m in the gym late. I’m putting up shots. I’m making sure I’m prepared so I can do everything I can to help. We gotta do a better job as a team.’’

Coach Jim Boylen told reporters he plans to “stay the course” with the current approach and doesn’t expect any major changes in personnel or strategy.

There’s more Bulls news to pass along:

  • LaVine is vowing to help Lauri Markkanen rediscover his scoring touch, writes K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago. After averaging 18.7 points per game last season, Markkanen’s average has fallen to 14.5 PPG while shooting 38% from the field. “He just doesn’t seem in rhythm right now man. It’s a new offense. And I think it has a part to do with it,” LaVine said. “We just gotta help him find it. We’ve all gone through some struggles. I feel like everybody has been off rhythm in the beginning part of the year. I think everybody is shooting a lower field goal percentage than their (career) average. His spirits are still high. I know he’s worried about it but he’s not pressing yet. And I think that’s good to see. He hasn’t done anything out of character. He hasn’t lashed out or blamed anybody. He just wants to win. And that’s the type of player he is.”
  • Foul trouble continues to be an issue for second-year center Wendell Carter Jr., Cowley observes in a separate story. Coaches like Carter’s aggressiveness on defense, but he admits he needs to channel it to stay on the floor.
  • After taking Coby White in the first round this year, the Bulls could focus on another Tar Heel if they continue to flounder, Cowley suggests in another piece. Cole Anthony, who has drawn comparisons to Derrick Rose, comes highly recommended by White. “He’s everything that was advertised,’’ White said. “Good, athletic, strong, can knock it down, gets it done defensively, rebounds the ball.’’

Central Notes: Bitadze, Garland, Casey, Korver, LaVine

Pacers’ first-round pick Goga Bitadze will make his preseason debut on Tuesday, Mark Monteith of the team’s website relays. The Euro big man missed the first three preseason games with an ankle injury. He’s slated as the main backup at center with Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis projected as starters. “That’s kind of where we’ve got him at,” coach Nate McMillan said. “We’ll see as we get into the season what the rotation is going to look like.”

We have more from the Central Division:

  • Cavaliers rookie Darius Garland could wind up in the starting lineup with Collin Sexton in a dual point guard backcourt, Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer writes. Garland has come off the bench thus far in the preseason but that could change with coach John Beilein continuing to tinker with various lineups. “If he’s able to practice enough and earn it, I have no qualms about that at all,” Beilein said. “But there’s a certain process you have to go through to be that starting point guard and whatever it’s going to take. We will get him in when we think it’s best for the team to win.”
  • Pistons coach Dwane Casey wants to see his team take 40% of its shots from beyond the arc, Keith Langlois of the team’s website relays. Like many teams, Detroit attempted a franchise record number of 3-pointers last season and Casey wants to continue that trend. Their backup bigs, including Markieff Morris, will help the Pistons achieve that goal. “We want to stay around 40,” Casey said. “We want to continue to get up more corner threes as much as possible. Our slot threes were up, but we were getting a fair amount of corner threes. We’ve got to continue to do that and put pressure on the basket.”
  • The Bucks added veteran guard Kyle Korver as another perimeter option but coach Mike Budenholzer sees Korver providing assistance in other areas, according to Ben Steele of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Korver signed a one-year, veteran’s minimum deal in July. “All the little things he does,” Budenholzer said. “Competing and screening. Getting hits on the defensive boards. I think we’re really excited about how he is going to make us better this year.”
  • Zach LaVine is eager to shed his reputation as a subpar defender, Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times relays. LaVine has been challenged to become a better two-way player by Bulls coach Jim Boylen‘‘I’m just tired of people talking [poorly] about my defense,’’ LaVine said. ‘‘I’ve always been a good on-ball defender. But there’s no reason I can be this good offensively and not be that good on the defensive end. So I’m taking more pride in it. I’m pretty sure it’ll show.”

Bulls Notes: Satoransky, Valentine, Kornet, LaVine

Bulls coach Jim Boylen hasn’t announced who will start at point guard but Tomas Satoransky seems to be leading the pack, K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago reports. Satoransky, who is battling rookie Coby White and incumbent Kris Dunn for the job, was acquired from the Wizards in a sign-and-trade deal. Satoransky had 11 points and eight assists in 20 minutes against the Pelicans in a preseason outing earlier this week.

“Every day, there is more clarity on what you like, what you don’t like, who fits, who doesn’t fit. Not only in that (lead guard) position but other situations,” Boylen said. “We can’t play everybody. From Day One, I said we’re going to have to share and become a team where sacrifice is involved. That day is coming not just for that lead guard position but other ones, too.”

We have more on the Bulls:

  • When swingman Denzel Valentine drove to the United Center on Monday, he got choked up en route to making his preseason debut, as he told Johnson in a separate story. Valentine missed last season after undergoing left ankle surgery. “I shed a tear on the way over to the arena,” Valentine said. “It’s just very emotional for me. This is my passion. This is what I love. It’s huge being healthy and being out there again.”
  • Big man Luke Kornet received a fully guaranteed two-year, $4.5MM deal from the Bulls in free agency but the possibility of being a rotation player was also a crucial factor in his decision, Johnson reports in another story. “A couple teams contacted me but I was able to talk to Coach Boylen for awhile and I got the feel they value what I do and understand the value of it,” Kornet said. “That got me excited.”
  • If the Bulls can make inroads in the win-loss column, Zach LaVine believes can receive All-Star recognition, as he told Eric Woodyard of ESPN“I had an All-Star-caliber year last year, but we had 22 wins so it got a little bit swept under the rug,” he said. “But that’s how it’s supposed to be when you have 20 wins. But if I continue to play the way I’m supposed to, there’s no reason I shouldn’t be an All-Star or All-NBA type guy.”