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Zach LaVine gets the thumbs-up, has first contact practice in L.A.

LOS ANGELES — Guard Zach LaVine’s long rehabilitation from a torn anterior cruciate ligament hit a major milestone Monday morning when his Los Angeles-based surgeon cleared him for full contact, setting up a possible mid-December debut for the Bulls.

“That’s what I’m going for, at least,” LaVine said. “I’m going to see how practice goes, keep going through that, and keep my hopes high. As long as I’m progressing and doing what I need to on the court, this thing could go fast, and I could be out there playing with the guys.”

He’ll be welcomed eagerly, not only by the guys, but by a coaching staff that’s trying to turn things around after a 3-11 start.


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“There’s no real timeframe, I guess,” coach Fred Hoiberg said. “It’s really going to be how he feels. Got him some light contact [Monday] just to get the process started. We’ll throw him out there and continue to try and get him to feel better.

“There’s going to be a mental hurdle that he’s going to have to clear as well. I know he’s excited, his teammates are excited, and the coaches are obviously excited as well.”

LaVine, who tore his ACL in February while he was playing for the Timberwolves, was one of the pieces in the draft-night deal for Jimmy Butler. The Bulls also got Kris Dunn and No. 7 overall draft pick Lauri Markkanen.

Markkanen has already made an impact. Dunn is close to being named the starting point guard if he continues to play like he has the last few weeks. And with LaVine now set to return, the Bulls’ rebuild will be off and running. At least that’s how LaVine sees it.

“I just think it’s a feel,” LaVine said. “I’ve got to get my rhythm, my timing. You know you’ve been out of basketball — contact-wise — for nine months, and that’s not going to come back in two or three practices. I have to get my timing down. Once I get that and what I’m supposed to be doing in practice, I’ll be ready to go.”

While every ACL rehab is different, LaVine’s situation certainly doesn’t resemble that of former Bull Derrick Rose — a drawn-out drama in which Rose declined to take the court even after he was cleared by doctors.

“You’ve got to get over it,” LaVine said of his mental approach. “There’ll be little missteps, but with me, I feel like I’m pretty mentally strong. If you all tell me to go full blow right now, I’ll go up and try and dunk on somebody. I won’t even think about it, so I’m not going to change my game. You can’t change the way you think about it because that’s how I feel you can get hurt. So I’m going to go play the same way.”

What Hoiberg and the staff now have to figure out is whether LaVine will just be thrown out there, whether he’ll need G-League games under his belt first, and whether they’ll restrict his minutes.

But those decisions are for another day.

“I’ve been watching film, watched [my teammates] play,’’ LaVine said. “And I just appreciate the game and what I’ve missed.”

Follow me on Twitter @suntimes_hoops.