Life is about to change for Denzel Valentine.
Heck, the Bulls’ front office hopes that life is about to change for everyone in the organization.
Finally, guard Zach LaVine, the key piece in the Jimmy Butler trade, will take the floor Saturday against the Pistons.
“I’m just anxious,” LaVine said Friday. “Extremely excited, ready to get back to playing again. 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 has been rehabbing since suffering a torn left anterior cruciate ligament in February. His recovery was expected to last nine months, but with the Bulls in no rush to win and with the ghost of Derrick Rose and his ACL rehabs hovering, the Bulls have brought LaVine along cautiously.
Now it’s about letting him go, and that’s why coach Fred Hoiberg named the fourth-year player a starter in his first game back.
“Part of it is Zach,” Hoiberg said. “Obviously, when those guys get warmed up, to get him right out there as opposed to sitting on the bench and having to think and cooling down, to get him out there right away is important.
“That’s going to be his role, as a starter. I had conversations with all the guys it is going to affect with the rotation and minutes, and everyone has taken it great. The bottom line is all of our guys are excited about getting Zach back in the lineup.”
LaVine will take Valentine’s starting spot. Valentine has started 31 of the Bulls’ 42 games. Justin Holiday will slide to small forward but stay on that wing.
“That’s how it works when you get a player back in the fold,” Hoiberg said of the changes. “It’s how it worked with the frontline when we got Bobby [Portis] back [from suspension] and got Niko [Mirotic] back [from injury]. It affected certain guys’ minutes and their spots in the rotation, and everyone handled it beautifully.
“The same thing has to happen now with Zach coming back, but everyone is excited about getting a really talented player back in the lineup and hopefully it works out well for us.”
The plan for LaVine is to get about five minutes of work in the first quarter, and then another five minutes at the start of the second half. He’ll be restricted to 20 minutes total, so the other 10 minutes will be at the coaches’ discretion.
Expect that to be LaVine’s way of life for about a week. Then the team will revisit the restrictions and slowly loosen them.
When asked what he expects to bring to the 15-27 Bulls, LaVine said, “Another guy, another leadership role. Everybody knows what I can do on the court. I know I’m gonna try to improve on that. I’m going out there to play hard and to win. The best thing I can do is to try to help this team win again and keep it going.
“I play with a love for the game. I don’t put too much pressure on myself because I know I’ll be OK at the end.”
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