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Enjoy Zach LaVine now Bulls fans; he may be gone sooner than later

With Year 3 of the rebuild completely off the tracks, the timeline for the Bulls guard being a focal point and face of the franchise has also changed. LaVine could play his final two years of his current contract and bolt town, and who would blame him.

With the Bulls’ rebuild not close to going as planned, Zach LaVine could eventually opt to leave Chicago.
With the Bulls’ rebuild not close to going as planned, Zach LaVine could eventually opt to leave Chicago.
Nick Wass/AP

It has become Zach LaVine’s mantra.

“I know what I represent, and I know who I am,’’ the Bulls guard has said over and over again, whether talking about a perceived All-Star snub or just his place in the current NBA hierarchy.

That kind of self-assessment might leave some rolling their eyes. But they’d be wrong for doing it.

Fact is, the LaVine the Bulls acquired from the Timberwolves in 2017 is not the LaVine they have now. His ability to fall out of bed and score 25 points might be the same, but he also has shown a refreshing maturity in becoming the face of the franchise.

Just don’t get too used to it. LaVine is signed through the 2021-22 season. He’ll be 27 then, likely in the prime of his career. And considering the current state of the Bulls, he’ll be looking to go elsewhere — money be damned — if he has any sense.

Not only has the Bulls’ rebuild — now in its third year — gone off the tracks, but it also no longer matches with LaVine and his skills. On paper, the Bulls had it mapped out that this season would be a push to the back end of the Eastern Conference playoffs, followed by a bigger leap next season in time to woo the elite free-agent class of 2021. The hope was that they could grab a superstar, make LaVine the No. 2 option and have big men Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. right there on the second tier of NBA stardom.

Now?

The Bulls’ front office is positioned for a possible overhaul when this season ends, which could mean a new vision and direction. With that could come a complete reboot of the coaching staff, meaning LaVine and his teammates would have to learn and adjust to a new system next season. If Jim Boylen is replaced, it would be LaVine’s sixth different head coach in his six NBA seasons.

Bear in mind, LaVine has never seen the postseason in those six seasons. And that’s wearing on him.

“I’ve done a lot of losing my whole career,’’ he told reporters Thursday after the Bulls’ loss to the Hornets. “I’ve been frustrated from the get-go, so I want that to change.”

It’s not going to change with the Bulls — at least not on the timeline he was hoping it would.

The other factor that has been weighing on LaVine — the No. 13 overall pick in 2014 — is the struggle to better his brand. In his estimation, the NBA’s 11th-highest scorer shouldn’t have been sitting in the stands for the All-Star Game at the United Center last Sunday. But NBA coaches felt otherwise when selecting reserves — an indication of how important winning is in this league.

Still, LaVine came out against the Hornets in the Bulls’ first game after break and did what he could — 19 points and seven assists — to try to carry an undermanned, under-talented roster.

“This is our job — this is our dream job,’’ LaVine said. “It’s a tough situation. Nobody likes being in a losing situation. But you get to see who’s fighting with you and who’s not, too.”

LaVine meets with reporters whenever asked, rarely avoids a question, yet also has stayed clear of firing on the organization or his teammates, despite his obvious frustration in this mess.

He deserves better.

And he may eventually get his wish.

NOTES: Two Bulls road games in early April were moved on the calendar to help accommodate the rescheduling of a Jan. 28 game between the Lakers and Clippers that was postponed after the death of Kobe Bryant and eight others in a helicopter crash.

The Bulls’ game against the Clippers, originally scheduled for Wednesday, April 8, will be played Monday, April 6, at 9 p.m. And the Bulls’ game against the Lakers, originally scheduled for April 7, will be played April 8 at 9:30 p.m.

• Forward Otto Porter Jr. (left foot), center Wendell Carter Jr. (right ankle) and guard Denzel Valentine (hamstring) practiced Friday and are considered game-time decisions for Saturday against the Suns.