Zach LaVine wants something bigger.
The Bulls guard always has.
He has made that very clear the last few seasons, first wanting individual recognition as an All-Star, but more importantly, he has wanted to show that he can be the face of an organization that is playing meaningful basketball well past the regular season.
One box was checked.
The other, however, is close to eluding LaVine yet again. The Bulls did avoid elimination Wednesday night thanks to the Hawks beating the Wizards 120-116, but they remain on the brink. One more loss by the Bulls over the final three games or one win by the Wizards over that same time, and LaVine can kiss the final play-in spot in the Eastern Conference goodbye.
That would make it seven seasons (four with the Bulls) in the NBA without a playoff appearance for LaVine.
“I’ve been making strides each and every year,’’ LaVine said. “I’m going to continue to do that. But it’s not about me. I would love to have just the opportunity to go out there and play and compete and showcase what I can do on a bigger stage. I’m going to get there. But we just have to work for it.’’
A comment from the heart, but also one that at least opened a back door on the possibility that LaVine might have to find that bigger stage elsewhere.
LaVine will be entering the final year of his contract and is due a pay raise.
The Sun-Times, as well as several other media outlets, reported at the start of the 2020-21 campaign that it was important for LaVine to be given max money moving forward. However, there are several sources who said that might not be the case any longer, as adding key role players around him could persuade LaVine to give the Bulls a slight discount.
But there’s also the other side to this, and that’s the unknown. Could executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas look to move LaVine this summer, feeling like they need to go in another direction?
Nikola Vucevic is a top-tier center in the East, so they have a versatile big to build around through the 2022-23 season, while the hope is that rookie forward Patrick Williams takes a huge jump in Year 2, especially having an offseason and full training camp to work on his game.
It would be hard for Karnisovas to find 27.5 points, 4.9 assists and five rebounds per game anywhere on the trade market, but his exact vision for this team has only been painted in vague terms with the phrase “building a winning culture.’’
LaVine is about to complete his fourth season in Chicago, and hasn’t even cracked the .500 mark. Fortunately, he’s not into the excuse game.
Sure, the Bulls have had frequent injuries in LaVine’s time, and even harder on the guard has been three coaching changes. Mix in Lauri Markkanen never reaching the potential that was expected when the rebuild was launched in 2017, and that’s led to a lot of evenings in which LaVine has been looking for help and getting very little.
That was supposed to change in late March when Karnisovas acquired Vucevic, giving LaVine his first fellow All-Star to work with, but the transition was clunky with almost no practice time, and then LaVine tested positive for the coronavirus, missing a key three-week stretch in April and into May.
A stretch that had a price.
That’s why LaVine was tired of talking about games this season they “should’ve won,’’ a better record that they “should’ve had.’’
“It’s always what we should’ve did,’’ LaVine said. “Yada, yada, yada. We put ourselves in this boat. Obviously, I’m riding along in it. So it’s upsetting and you gotta be accountable. It sucks, though. Obviously, I want to be in the playoffs and be on that stage.’’
What needs to be answered is will that stage be with the Bulls?