Zach Lavine’s defensive breakdowns were reportedly the cause of Bulls’ locker-room incident

Bulls coach Billy Donovan confirmed Tuesday that there was a halftime incident in Minnesota in the locker room. But he didn’t want any of his players singled out, so he did his best to defend LaVine’s slumping defense,

SHARE Zach Lavine’s defensive breakdowns were reportedly the cause of Bulls’ locker-room incident
The Bulls’ Zach Lavine defends against the Knicks’ Jalen Brunson.

The Bulls’ Zach Lavine defends against the Knicks’ Jalen Brunson.

Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

MIAMI — Bulls coach Billy Donovan was underrated defensively back in his days at Providence.

There was more than a glimpse of that doggedness Tuesday as he defended Zach LaVine.

There was a halftime incident during the embarrassing road loss Sunday against the Timberwolves, according to a source, in which several loud blowups led to a coach having to come into the locker room. 

Donovan confirmed the incident before the game against the Heat but said he was not in the locker room when it happened and was informed about it afterward.

So what triggered the situation?

The constant defensive breakdowns during the previous five games and in that first half against the undermanned T-wolves. The anger was said to be directed at LaVine.

Not that it would come as a surprise.

Forget that LaVine was given a five-year, $215 million max contract last summer. Those numbers might factor somewhat into the frustration from teammates, but it’s the defensive numbers that reportedly have riled up the locker room.

LaVine has proved that he can defend at a much higher level, and all but promised last season — a contract year — that he would.

He showed his defensive acumen with Team USA in the summer of 2021, then again with the Bulls throughout training camp and into the first six weeks of the 2021-22 regular season.

At one point in late November, LaVine’s defensive rating was 103.4, which ranked him 79th among starters — as high as LaVine had ever been ranked. Then his left knee started acting up. LaVine ended the season with that poor defensive reputation intact, finishing with a career-worst 116.1 rating.

With his knee surgically repaired and the contract extension no longer a concern, the hope was LaVine would get back to being that willing defender. That hasn’t happened.

Donovan was asked if he thought LaVine was unable to defend at a high level because of the knee or because he simply won’t, and that’s when he did his best to get into a stance and defend his star. Sort of.

“Some of the things he has referenced to you guys is he’s trying to get his legs underneath him, so I think that has an impact on it,’’ Donovan said of what he was seeing on film from LaVine. “But I think clearly our entire team the last five games, everybody is capable of being better defensively. Not only Zach, but [Nikola Vucevic], DeMar [DeRozan], Alex [Caruso], everybody. We’ve got to be better collectively, and as a coaching staff, we’ve got to help them, as well.’’

Donovan was queried about what specific things the coaches can do to help LaVine improve his defense.

“There’s situations where guys are getting blown by off the dribble; there’s not communication on the back side,’’ Donovan said.

‘‘I don’t think you can sit there and point at every defensive breakdown and say, ‘Hey, that’s on Zach’ or ‘It’s all DeMar.’ No, it’s all of us. We’re all together. And we as coaches play a part in it, too, constantly trying to create the clarity for him as in, ‘This is what we’re doing, and can we do it at a high enough level?’ ’’

Green with injury

Javonte Green missed his fifth game with knee soreness, and while he’s progressing, Donovan said, he’s also experiencing pain in the right knee when they ramp up his rehab activity.

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