Bulls players want the front office to run this group back out there next season
It was pretty clear by Thursday’s player exit interviews that DeMar DeRozan wants Zach LaVine to get a max deal, Nikola Vucevic wants the crew brought back for another run and Lonzo Ball just wants a healthy left knee.
The DeRozan household has a tic-tac-toe prodigy.
DeMar DeRozan said one of his daughters taught him an unbeatable strategy that’s guaranteed to win games and frustrate opponents.
DeRozan had no problem adding it to his repertoire off the court this season. In one case, he employed it on a team charter against Zach LaVine.
“I remember we played tic-tac-toe on the plane, and I kept beating [LaVine],’’ DeRozan said. “He wouldn’t leave me alone until he beat me. And that’s just him on the court, as well. Him being the ultimate competitor outside of being just a hell of an individual outside of basketball. On the court? One of the more fierce competitors I’ve ever played with.’’
And DeRozan believes LaVine deserves a max contract. Sounding like a close friend-turned-agent, DeRozan said LaVine outplayed the four-year, $78 million contract he signed in 2018 and put himself in position to be paid like league royalty.
“Max player, max talent, max everything,’’ DeRozan said. “He’s one of those players in this league that you don’t see too often. I tell him all the time how envious I am of the things he’s able to do. He deserves everything that’s coming to him, for sure.’’
Immediately coming LaVine’s way is a surgical procedure on his left knee, which was expected to take place quickly after the Bulls were eliminated by the Bucks on Wednesday night.
If that surgery goes as expected and there are no lingering concerns, then LaVine’s payday will come. The Bulls are saying all the right things about keeping the two-time All-Star in the red, white and black.
There’s an argument that LaVine only has taken the Bulls to the playoffs once, and he wasn’t even the best player on the team. Maxing out a guy who played on a No. 6 seed and was eliminated in the first round isn’t always good business, especially when that player is a guard who often focuses only on his offense.
But the Bulls will be investing in the version of LaVine they saw in the summer with Team USA and the first six weeks of the regular season before his left knee started to betray him.
That LaVine averaged 25.5 points on 48.1% shooting and had an eye-opening 105.1 defensive rating in October, then followed that up with 25.3 points per game on 48.9% shooting with a 112.8 defensive rating in 16 games through November.
When LaVine was asked in late November about the max contract as well as his new-found attention to playing defense, he said, “How’s my defensive rating now? It’s better. What does that tell you?’’
The defensive numbers obviously dipped drastically when the knee started bothering him, but the Bulls sound willing to give him a pass.
They might be willing to give passes to a good part of the roster and run a similar-looking cast back out there next season with some much-needed tweaks. Nikola Vucevic indicated that when discussing his exit meeting with the front office and coaching staff Thursday.
“They want to have continuity; that’s for sure,’’ Vucevic said. “As far as moves they can make, I don’t really know that. That’s their job.’’
The one concern to come out of the player exit meetings was Lonzo Ball admitting that his surgically repaired left knee was still causing him pain.
He was scheduled to meet with another specialist next week. Ball also didn’t take another surgery off the table.