Tale of two All-Star Weekends for Zach LaVine and Bulls’ front office
In 2020, when All-Star Weekend was held in Chicago, LaVine found himself in the middle of “Fire Gar/Pax” chants and questions about the failures of the Bulls’ front office. This All-Star Weekend in Cleveland was markedly different, not only for LaVine but for the Bulls’ organization.
CLEVELAND — Bulls guard Zach LaVine tried to handle the moment as best he could.
It started with the booing from the live audience when then-“First Take’’ co-host Max Kellerman mentioned John Paxson’s name in a question for LaVine.
“[These fans] might speak differently, but I’m with the team,’’ LaVine said uncomfortably as boos quickly turned into a “Fire Gar/Pax’’ chant.
“I gotta put the team first,’’ LaVine said, finally getting on the crowd and calling the chants terrible.
But the wildfire had spread across the set at Navy Pier that morning, and there was nothing LaVine could do to contain it.
On Saturday, two years removed from that All-Star Weekend in Chicago, LaVine no longer had to defend Paxson and former general manager Gar Forman. There was no fire to put out, not even any smoke.
There were no questions about the Bulls’ front office nose-diving into another mountain of mediocrity and not a single chant. If anything, it was quite the opposite.
LaVine sat at his podium discussing the front office making Chicago an attractive destination and the Bulls a real contender in the Eastern Conference.
This was LaVine’s second All-Star appearance, but, unlike two years ago, he didn’t make the trip alone. DeMar DeRozan was named an All-Star starter, and rookie Ayo Dosunmu participated in the Rising Stars tournament on Friday.
“I just think they’re always trying to improve the team,’’ LaVine said of executive vice president Arturas Karnisovas and general manager Marc Eversley. “Obviously, we’re gonna try to compete and do the best we can and compete to championship-level aspirations. But I think they’re just gonna try to continue to improve the team and get us better, so when we’re in those situations, we’re ready for it.’’
Maybe they will be by April.
That it happened so quickly from that weekend in Chicago is almost mind-boggling.
Rewind to 2020 and that All-Star Game. Reports broke that the Bulls were heading for a front-office shake-up before the game even started that Sunday at the United Center.
A few months later, there was a Karnisovas nameplate on the office door at the Advocate Center, and the rest has been a rapid-fire draining of the swamp, from the front office to the coaching staff to the roster.
And the rest of the league has taken notice.
“Chicago deserves to be that,’’ former Bulls star Jimmy Butler said when asked if he was surprised that Chicago could become a destination for big-time players. “I think the Bulls are legendary. They’ve got some really, really good players now. . . . They deserve to win; they deserve a championship just like everybody else does. I’ve got so much love for that city, always will, and I’m glad they’re back at the top of things.’’
For DeRozan, the top is a place where they would like to take up residency.
Nikola Vucevic, acquired at the 2021 trade deadline, was the first major piece brought in. And while the additions of Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso were brilliant, the DeRozan sign-and-trade turned a nice offseason into a stellar one.
DeRozan has long been respected by his peers throughout the league, but what he has accomplished this season has really opened some eyes. It was also one of the hot topics throughout the weekend.
The Bulls have built something special, and now it’s about taking it to the next level and maintaining it.
“I think it’s just understood because you see it,’’ DeRozan said when asked about other All-Stars talking about the organization’s turnaround. “My peers, they know. We all have respect for one another. Going to Chicago, I knew I wasn’t just going to wear the Chicago Bulls jersey and get some free Jordans. We were going there to make something happen. Even if it’s not said, it was understood.’’
Which brings us back to LaVine.
Besides Coby White, LaVine is really the only significant player left from the Gar/Pax era. He has had to endure questions about their leadership, about Jim Boylen’s coaching and about an organization that spent years spinning in mud since his arrival.
Facing the national media the last few days, really for the first time since Chicago’s All-Star Weekend, those questions were gone.
“It just shows the progression of the franchise and that we’re trending in the right direction,’’ LaVine said. “Sometimes you’ve just got to play the cards you’re dealt.’’
Then again, LaVine was due a good hand.