There are 215 million reasons why this falls on Bulls guard Zach LaVine
Sacrifice is easy to talk about, but not always easy to do. The Bulls are finding that out as they watch their season spiral downward in embarrassing fashion after the loss Sunday to the Timberwolves. LaVine continued to say the right things, but it’s time for him to do the right things.
MINNEAPOLIS — Point guard Goran Dragic spent two seasons with former Bulls star Jimmy Butler in Miami.
It took Dragic only a few minutes to figure out exactly what Butler was about.
“I loved having him as a teammate because with Jimmy, you know where you stand right away,’’ Dragic said. “If you’re willing to sacrifice for the team, he’ll have your back 100% because that’s how he plays. If you don’t sacrifice, he’s going to have a problem with you.’’
So which Bull is holding teammates accountable these days?
Who commands the respect among his peers to let it be known that what took place during the last week is unacceptable? Who will lead by example to prevent it from happening again? That should be the real concern for the organization.
And that player might not be around.
“We’re not playing for each other,’’ Dragic said after the Bulls’ embarrassing 150-126 loss Sunday to the undermanned Timberwolves. “It’s as simple as that.’’
That’s a damning statement from a veteran who has spent 15 seasons in the NBA and has seen it all.
“Somebody told me — and he was right — it’s easy to talk about sacrifice,’’ Dragic said. “But somebody else’s sacrifice is easier to talk about. When it comes to you, when you have to sacrifice for the team, then it’s a different story.’’
Dragic didn’t name names, and he didn’t have to.
As soon as guard Zach LaVine put pen to paper on his five-year, $215 million max contract, it became his team. That contract should carry that responsibility. If it doesn’t, then the Bulls’ front office has to look in the mirror and evaluate its decision-making process.
LaVine must lead the charge and turn up the effort level on both ends of the court.
Heading into the showdown against the Heat in Miami on Tuesday, LaVine has a defensive efficiency rating of 114.9. That’s unacceptable for a player with his athletic ability, especially after the two-time All-Star demonstrated with Team USA and during the first six weeks last season that he can be a high-effort defender.
LaVine will never be an elite stopper, but effort is something he can control.
But there was barely any hint of that Sunday.
The Timberwolves did what they wanted, wherever they wanted. LaVine wasn’t the only culprit by any means, but he’s the face of the franchise and has to be held to the highest standard.
To his credit, he acknowledged after the last two losses that he has to be better. But talk is cheap at this point.
Simply look at one stat: charges taken this season.
Alex Caruso leads the team with six, 33-year-old DeMar DeRozan has four and reserve Coby White has three. LaVine? Zero.
How about two-point shots contested by Bulls backcourt players? Ayo Dosunmu, Caruso and DeRozan rank higher than LaVine.
Are those merely coincidences or stats being bent a certain way? Maybe, but the eye test doesn’t lie. LaVine was a turnstile against the Timberwolves.
The guy eating up the highest amount of payroll can’t be that. Not if that team has high aspirations.
“It’s hard to be a great anything as a group unless you’re really going to do it for the guy next to you,’’ coach Billy Donovan said. “That’s what it comes down to. We have to do it for each other.’’
But there has to be a starting point for that sacrifice and selflessness. And he wears No. 8.