It’s not clear when, exactly, guard Zach LaVine will return to play for the Bulls — but it’s also not hard to find him.
When practices end at the Advocate Center, he’s there working with the coaches as he goes one-on-no one, launching shot after shot from all areas of the court. He’s showing no lingering effects after surgery for a torn left anterior cruciate ligament in early February, and he has numbers to back that up.
“[Chicago] was my first pre-draft workout, right after the combine, so they had all my measurements here,” said LaVine, who was drafted 13th overall by the Timberwolves in 2014 and came to the Bulls on June 22 in the Jimmy Butler trade. “My three-quarter sprint is now faster than what it was. My first 10-meter sprint is faster. My standing vertical is higher. My one-step vertical is higher off two feet. It’s been coming along really well. I was pretty surprised a couple times, like, ‘Oh, wow, it’s higher than what it was.’ As long as I can keep progressing at this rate, you know, I’m going to be back doing better than I was before.”
Sounds great, but excuse Bulls fans if they’re a bit squeamish when it comes to guards recovering from torn ACLs. While Derrick Rose tries to reinvent himself with his third team in three years, his time with the Bulls is either a cautionary tale or simply a tragedy: NBA MVP in the 2010-11 season, knee betrays him at the end of the 2012 season, then drawn-out comeback attempts complicated by more knee problems.
Reminded that Bulls fans might be hesitant about pushing in all their chips for a LaVine comeback, LaVine smirked.
“Yeah, obviously,’’ he said.
But there’s a huge difference between Rose and LaVine: Rose was told he could do more in his first return but instead opted to hold back, seemingly to protect his brand. LaVine frequently has to be pulled out of rehab work by coaches and trainers because they want him to do less, seemingly protecting him from himself.
“He just wants to get on the court,” fellow Bulls guard Kris Dunn said. “He loves basketball. He loves competing. He’s always here and wants to hop into drills. Coaches have to tell him, ‘Hey, you’re not there yet. Slow down. It’s a process.’ He knows. He’s just so itchy to get on the court because he wants to show everyone he’s ready.”
If LaVine has a nine-month injury, as he and the Bulls have said, then the final push to get him on the floor should start in late November. Give him a few weeks to get into shape, maybe some games in the G-League, and pencil him into the lineup for early December.
In the meantime, don’t ask the Bulls about it.
“We’re not going to rush Zach back,” vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said. “But we’re also going to listen. When they say he’s ready to play or to practice, we’re going to allow him to do that. The one thing I’ve always found — and it’s big — is guys come back from an extended time out, especially coming off surgery, and when they get the OK, they need to get in basketball condition. And that doesn’t happen overnight.”
No one knows that more than Bulls fans.
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