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Bulls guard Zach LaVine cleared to rejoin Team USA

LaVine had been in USA Basketball’s health and safety protocols, but there was an announcement late Tuesday that he would rejoin the team Thursday afternoon. That means LaVine can chase gold and get back on the recruiting trail.

Zach LaVine is guarded by Matisse Thybulle of the Australia Boomers during an exhibition game July 12 in Las Vegas.
Zach LaVine is guarded by Matisse Thybulle of the Australia Boomers during an exhibition game July 12 in Las Vegas.
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Let the recruiting recommence!

The news from USA Basketball late Tuesday night that guard Zach LaVine had cleared the health and safety protocols and could join Team USA in Tokyo for the Olympics meant he also could return to pitching the Bulls to potential free agents.

“I mean, players is gonna be players, man,’’ LaVine said recently when discussing the recruiting game that goes on when NBA superstars gather — whether it’s with Team USA or for an All-Star Game.

And if LaVine needed a reminder of which position (hint: point guard) could get the Bulls into the postseason and out of mediocrity, it was on display in the NBA Finals.

The champion Bucks, who suffered disappointments the last few postseasons, found a two-way point guard in Jrue Holiday who helped push their big two of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton to franchise immortality.

The runner-up Suns didn’t become a real threat in the Western Conference until point guard Chris Paul arrived.

So does that mean the Bulls are a legit point guard away from being a threat to lift the Larry O’Brien Trophy next summer?

Absolutely not. The team is still flawed.

LaVine needs to live up to his promise of becoming a two-way player, Patrick Williams needs to start asserting himself on the wing and Nikola Vucevic needs to continue jelling with his teammates and improving his rim protection, and that’s just the top of the roster.

But unless the Bulls can add a proven point guard, they’re headed for seeds six through eight at best, reverting to the one-and-done franchise they were tired of being when the old regime pressed the self-destruct button in 2017.

With free agency 10 days away, the Bulls have Coby White as their starting point guard. White made some strides late after losing his starting job midway through the season but had surgery on his left shoulder, derailing most of the offseason work he needed to do.

Even before his injury, executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas wasn’t committing to White, the Bulls’ 2019 first-round pick, as a starter.

“I think it depends on, you know, we have a big now in ‘Vooch’ who can play-make, and you’ve got Zach,’’ Karnisovas said. “What is point guard these days in the league? All point guards have to score, right? We’ll see. [White is] going to keep adding things to his game.

“He showed some improvement. So I’m expecting him for next year to show up and be better than he was this year.’’

A tough ask, considering the circumstances.

So where does that leave the Bulls? Even if LaVine turns into the smoothest-talking recruiter around, there are two major problems: cap space and the available point guards aren’t on the Olympic team.

Mike Conley, Kyle Lowry, Lonzo Ball, heck, maybe even Spencer Dinwiddie can help. But they’re not in Tokyo.

As for the Bulls and their point-guard situation, Karnisovas did make a valid point when he asked, “What is point guard these days in the league?’’

Well, the Bucks and Suns provided a pretty good answer.