It was nice of Zach LaVine to try to play the role of a guy just chilling in the shadows, but there’s no doubt whose team this still is.
LaVine had 31 points in the preseason finale against the Grizzlies and didn’t break much of a sweat.
Call it the Lonzo Ball factor.
Or maybe it’s the lessons LaVine learned as an Olympian this summer.
It’s likely both.
LaVine is surrounded by more weapons than ever since joining the Bulls. They’ll pick up some of the scoring slack and make his life easier offensively.
“I feel good with [Ball directing the offense],’’ LaVine said. “Glad to get off the ball and let other guys operate and get into those lanes, play in transition. I did it just this past year, this past summer in the Olympics, learned to play off the ball there, so it’s a blessing to have all these weapons, go-to guys that can be No. 1 options on a team.
“You get them the ball and get out of the way. . . . I’ll be here when you need me.’’
Oh, they’ll need him, make no mistake about that.
But LaVine is hoping they won’t need him to carry the team every night, the feast-or-famine offensive approach not weighing so heavily on his shoulders anymore.
LaVine isn’t shy about playing hero ball, but what has it got him?
Seven NBA seasons on the résumé and nary a playoff appearance.
With all the lineup changes since the start of last season, LaVine finally feels like he has scoring peers, and he hopes the unselfishness displayed during a 4-0 preseason will carry into the regular season.
“We’ve got a bunch of guys out here playing for each other, trying to figure each other out who are extremely unselfish and will do anything to win,’’ LaVine said. “They will sacrifice and try to figure it out with this process.’’
That “process’’ continued Saturday as the Bulls announced that Stanley Johnson and Troy Baxter Jr. were waived.
Johnson was needed for frontcourt depth initially, but the growth of Javonte Green the last six weeks — as well as Alize Johnson’s stellar camp — made him a bit redundant.
The front office entered camp knowing the Bulls would be a smaller team, and playing small will have to be a way of life on most nights.
That’s why Ball has emerged as one of the more important players on the roster. He not only has made LaVine’s life easier on offense but has been a disrupter defensively.
“I’ve been playing against [Ball] the last four years, so I knew he was a great defender,’’ LaVine said. “Active, guards multiple positions, and we have a lot of guys that can do that.’’
Then factor in Ball’s IQ, and he has been what the Bulls have been missing since the rebuild was initiated.
“He breaks up a lot of plays,’’ coach Billy Donovan said. “He’s very active because he can see things before they happen. He’s got a real good read and feel for the game, especially in transition.
“Obviously, when he does that, and the ball is in his hands, that’s where I think he’s special because he’s such a good passer, and he’s got such good speed in the open floor.’’