Bulls guard Zach LaVine might have no choice but to let his game evolve
He might have to deal with discomfort in his left knee for the rest of this season or, even worse, for the rest of his career. He needs to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
TORONTO — Bulls guard Zach LaVine sat in front of his locker, wearing only a towel and bags of ice on the knees of his outstretched legs.
There was a lot he was asked to explain after the Bulls’ loss Friday to the Celtics in Boston.
Why was he settling for jumpers throughout the first half? Why did he take only one shot in the third quarter? Then, when he did get aggressive in the fourth quarter, where was the explosiveness that has put opposing defenders on their heels for years?
If only LaVine had better answers. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to give them, but he’s just dealing with too many unknowns.
‘‘Obviously, I’m not all the way back yet,’’ LaVine said of his 6-for-13 shooting night. ‘‘I feel that; I’m not going to lie. But it’s coming.’’
That’s not exactly what anyone wanted to hear from a player who signed a five-year, $215 million max contract less than four months ago. Then again, LaVine sounded tired of trying to downplay the effects of the surgery he had on his left knee during the offseason. It was time for some transparency.
The good news to come out of Friday was that LaVine even played. It was his third game in four nights despite the load-management schedule for his knee the Bulls have used for the first few weeks of the season.
So why chance it now? The truth is, this might be LaVine’s norm moving forward. He might have to deal with discomfort in the knee for the rest of this season or, even worse, for the rest of his career. He needs to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
If that means some shaky nights, so be it.
In the first of the three games, it was vintage LaVine. He scored 20 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter and played his best game of the season Tuesday against the Nets.
The follow-up Wednesday against the Hornets, however, was somewhat predictable: LaVine shot 4-for-16 in his first back-to-back action this season.
After a day off Thursday, LaVine finished with 16 points against the Celtics. But when he went to the rim, it was more react than attack.
There also was something else LaVine addressed after the game: that maybe the time is coming for him to change his game. Asked whether his days of being a high-flyer were behind him, LaVine responded: ‘‘You might be [right], you might not be. I don’t know. MJ [Michael Jordan] was better when he came back off of baseball, but he didn’t dunk as much. Maybe I don’t need to keep the wear-and-tear. It’s about longevity too.’’
Again, those aren’t the kind of answers that should be coming out of the mouth of a max-contract player, but it isn’t as though the Bulls can take the deal back. LaVine put himself in position for a big payday and now has to put himself in position to carry out that contract the best way he can.
Will he ever be able to justify the money he got? If the knee stays where it is and his defense remains suspect, no. What he needs to do for now, however, is just to play. He has been told the knee is structurally sound, and he’s getting a grasp on the discomfort and how to deal with it.
There are still a lot of unknowns, but evolving as those things are figured out isn’t a bad thing.
That and keeping a couple of ice bags nearby.