Bulls guard Zach LaVine headed for knee surgery when season ends

According to a source, LaVine has downplayed the level of discomfort he has gone through this season with the left knee and will have surgery immediately after the playoff run.

SHARE Bulls guard Zach LaVine headed for knee surgery when season ends
The Bulls’ Zach LaVine is expected to undergo knee surgery after the season.

The Bulls’ Zach LaVine is expected to undergo knee surgery after the season.

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

Before the NBA’s health and safety protocols knocked him out of Game 5, guard Zach LaVine was walking a fine line when discussing his left knee.

LaVine was doing his best to downplay the severity of the pain but also reminding everyone that he was not the same player he was at the start of the season.

It’s a tricky situation for LaVine as he heads into unrestricted free agency and his expected first huge payday this offseason.

Maybe that’s why LaVine wasn’t completely transparent about the injury.

In early March, LaVine was discussing the discomfort and said, “me at 80%, 70%, whatever it is, I’m still one of the best players in the NBA and damn sure one of the best players on the court when we play.’’

According to a source close to the situation, however, LaVine’s knee was “more like 50%, and that’s on a good day.’’

The source also said that maintenance for the knee the last few months was an all-day affair and that a good number of All-Star-type players likely would’ve shut it down for the season.

LaVine wouldn’t come out and say for sure that he was headed for offseason surgery — likely an arthroscopic procedure — but the source said he will have surgery almost immediately after the playoffs. One scenario that has been ruled out, the source said, is that the knee problem was degenerative and LaVine would be dealing with it long-term.

That’s good news for the Bulls and LaVine, who by all expectations will sit down at some point to discuss a max contract. That doesn’t mean executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas deems LaVine untouchable from a sign-and-trade standpoint if an unexpected deal presents itself, but the sides seem to be on the same page for now.

The Bulls are hoping that they’ll be giving an extension to the LaVine they watched last summer with Team USA and through December before the knee started swelling.

The numbers, especially defensively, tell the story of how much LaVine has been hampered.

It was only six games in October, but LaVine came out strong, averaging 25.5 points on 48.1% shooting to go along with a 105.1 defensive rating, according to StatMuse.

The best defensive-efficiency rating of LaVine’s career came in the 2019-20 season, when he had a 110.4, so he was on pace to smash that mark.

By the time the knee started becoming a daily chore at the end of December, LaVine’s defense went out the window. In January, the efficiency was 117, and by February, it was 119.9. In his 14 games in March, it was up to 121.5.

Obviously, the schedule was tougher in March, but LaVine’s offensive numbers were also down across the board in the second half.

So is handing LaVine a max contract a big gamble for the Bulls? Not if the LaVine they’re investing in is the one they saw during the first few months of the season.

NOTE: Alex Caruso, unable to test out of the concussion protocol, missed Game 5 on Wednesday. Caruso had to leave in the second quarter of Game 4 when he took a blow to the head.

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