Bulls guard Zach LaVine makes first All-Star Game, but wants more

LaVine broke a four-year Bulls drought, becoming the organization’s first All-Star player since Jimmy Butler was named to the league’s showcase event back in 2017. And while he was proud of the accomplishment, it’s about bigger things for his team in the end.

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Zach LaVine will represent the Bulls at this year’s NBA All-Star Game.

Zach LaVine will represent the Bulls at this year’s NBA All-Star Game.

Matt Slocum/AP

Bulls coach Billy Donovan could have gone on a campaign blitz over the last week, calling every NBA coach and pushing the Zach LaVine narrative ad nauseam.

As Tuesday proved though, luckily for Donovan, the eye test and the numbers spoke louder than a FaceTime chat and were more than enough to ensure that LaVine had become a first-time NBA All-Star.

With reserves being chosen through voting by the league’s head coaches, LaVine broke a four-year Bulls drought, becoming the organization’s first player since Jimmy Butler in 2017 to be named to the league’s showcase event.

The guard’s emotions ranged from relief to “about damn time.’’ What should have the organization excited though: LaVine didn’t sound like a guy who was close to settling just because of individual recognition.

“I try to live in the moment, but I definitely thought bigger picture because even if I didn’t make the team I knew that obviously I think I was one of the better players in the Eastern Conference and I have my team fighting for the eighth spot to get into the playoffs, and that was my main goal,’’ LaVine said in a Zoom call Tuesday after the announcement. “Once you start winning, everything comes with that, and individually this has helped me out a lot and it was deserving, and I’m thankful for that, but it makes you more hungry.

“You want more for me and the team, and that success, I think it just carries on. So I’m excited to see where it goes from here. And I’m definitely not content, I think you guys know me for that. I definitely want to keep pushing that envelope.’’

Not that LaVine’s mentality comes as much of a surprise, especially with the Bulls becoming somewhat relevant again. Following their rout of the Rockets on Monday, the Bulls had a 14-16 record, winners of four of their last five games and holding a spot for the play-in game as the No. 8 seed.

And LaVine has been the leading man in the revival.

LaVine, who has started all 30 games, is averaging 28.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.1 assists, but that only scratches the surface. He’s shooting 51.8% shooting from the field, 43.4% from three-point range and 86.4% from the free-throw line. Throw in a steadily improving 23.05 player efficiency rating and an honest effort on the defensive end for the first time in six-plus seasons, and it’s easy to see why Donovan likes the idea of LaVine being among the NBA’s elite now.

“I’ve talked publicly about how I feel about Zach and the way he’s performed this year,’’ Donovan said. “My feeling is he’s played [at] an All-Star level. I don’t think anybody would dispute that. He’s a guy that’s very deserving to be in the game.’’

LaVine also was hoping to participate in the three-point contest for the second consecutive season, but was all but ruling out going after a third slam-dunk contest title.

For now, though, it’s all about the team, but if LaVine picks up individual accolades along the way so be it.

“I want to be an NBA champion,’’ LaVine said. “I think as an individual thing that’s something that you want to do. You want to be MVP of a championship team. But I think the team concept is now switched with me. It’s got to come first because without that you don’t get the individual accolades.’’

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