Bulls’ Zach LaVine leaves the All-Star Game looking for a travel buddy

With his first All-Star Game appearance behind him, LaVine said he takes some goals with him back to Chicago for the second half of the season and beyond. One would be a teammate joining him on an All-Star roster.

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Could Zach LaVine have some company on the flight to next year’s All-Star Game?

Could Zach LaVine have some company on the flight to next year’s All-Star Game?

AP

Having family and loved ones with him on a private jet to and from Atlanta for Sunday’s All-Star extravaganza was a memory that Bulls guard Zach LaVine won’t soon forget.

But after his first appearance in the All-Star Game in his seventh NBA season, there’s something else that sticks with him: There was still room on that plane.

More than a few All-Star players had one of their regular teammates there with them this year, and that resonated with LaVine.

“There’s multiple guys in this on the same team,” he said. “So I think it just shows that if you’re in the right, winning mindset and guys on the team are playing the right way, you can definitely have fun with multiple teammates in the All-Star Game. I think that’s something you can take away, back to your teammates: ‘Let’s get a couple of guys in here next time.’ ”

The Bulls’ front office would love that. Given the financial impact of the coronavirus and sanctions on the NBA from China, it’s unclear just how much the salary cap will hurt over the next two years. But it’s less of a guess that NBA teams are shifting more toward a “big two” player model than a “big three” to chase the championship. The Nets are a notable exception, but the Celtics, Clippers, Lakers and 76ers are all leaning more on two stars with some key role players around them.

For teams like the Bulls, two All-Stars would be evidence they can compete. And two stars is much more doable than what the Celtics did years ago with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen and what the Heat created with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

So what’s the likelihood of La-Vine having a Bulls travel partner for next year’s All-Star Game in Cleveland? Slim — at least as the roster is currently constructed. But here are the most logical options, in reverse order:

4. Coby White

Year 3 is when Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum, emerg-ing as the perfect sidekick to Damian Lillard, became a player opponents had to game-plan for. Could White be in a similar position by next season? 

It’s unlikely. As good as McCollum has been, he’s not yet an All-Star — and this is a guy who’s a much better defender than White and far more consistent offensively.

3. Patrick Williams

The rookie is beyond raw and more focused on the defensive end at this point in his development. It’s great for the Bulls to have a wing with that mentality, but All-Star voters take a long time to warm up to defensive-minded players.

2. Lauri Markkanen

The 7-footer participated in the Rising Stars Game in 2019, and his skills should scream “potential All-Star,” but injuries and too many lethargic stretches when he’s healthy have been cause for escalating concern.

Plus, Markkanen might not even be a Bull by next season, heading toward the summer as a restricted free agent.

1. A trade acquisition

Rumors of big man Andre Drummond coming to the Bulls were interesting, but a source told the Sun-Times the Bulls had “very soft interest’’ in him. His skills aren’t a great mesh with what coach Billy Donovan tends to like from his starting five.

Magic center Nikola Vucevic, on the other hand? He could play pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop with LaVine, brings a rebounding presence and is a willing facilitator. The Magic have painted themselves into salary-cap hell with very little to show for it and might be willing to move on from Vucevic.

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