Relationship between Bulls’ Zach LaVine and Billy Donovan remains strained but workable

According to a source, the Bulls guard has forgiven his coach for a November late-game benching but has not forgotten it. And with LaVine playing as well as he has all season the last few weeks, what could all this mean with the Feb. 9 trade deadline approaching?

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Bulls head coach Billy Donovan, right, fist-bumps guard Zach LaVine.

Bulls head coach Billy Donovan, right, fist-bumps guard Zach LaVine.

Mary Altaffer/AP

Bulls guard Zach LaVine is a forgiving guy.

In his nine-year career, he has shown that capability several times — toward an organization that traded him, a front office that matched a contract offer rather than made one and coaches who doubted him.

LaVine always has moved on.

That doesn’t mean he forgets.

According to a source, the LaVine-Billy Donovan relationship is still viable, but it remains somewhat strained in the wake of the late-game benching Nov. 21 in which Donovan chose to ride out the last minutes against the Magic with LaVine out of the game.

LaVine expressed his displeasure with the decision immediately after the game.

“That’s Billy’s decision; he’s gotta lay with it,’’ he said. ‘‘Do I agree with it? No. I think I can go out there and still be me even if I miss some shots. That’s his decision, and he’s got to stand on it.’’

The two spoke right after the benching and put some salve on the wound, but LaVine obviously was unhappy with the way he was called out by teammates at halftime of the Bulls’ embarrassing loss in Minnesota on Dec. 18 as well as with Donovan’s late-game sets in which DeMar DeRozan has been option 1A and 1B.

The locker-room incident had little to do with Donovan, but it wasn’t like he threw a life preserver to anyone involved. And as far as rarely getting a chance to win games late since DeRozan’s arrival, LaVine said last week, “I think we have to start figuring out how we can get some different actions in those situations.’’

So how big of a deal is the state of the Donovan-LaVine relationship in the long-range scope of things? Actually, it’s not a big deal at all.

Donovan was locked into a contract extension in the fall, and LaVine signed a max contract in the summer that locked him up for the next five years, including the $48.9 million player option for the 2026-27 season.

Plus, there’s a precedent for LaVine not being on the same page as a coach and still functioning at a high level.

The LaVine-Jim Boylen relationship was much more damaged, and it never affected LaVine’s play. He’s good at compartmentalizing issues with teammates and coaches. LaVine is averaging 27.5 points in his last 10 games and shooting 52.8% from the field and 51.4% from three-point range. The Bulls are 7-3 during that span, including victories against the Knicks, Bucks and Nets.

But the situation could get interesting with the Feb. 9 trade deadline approaching. LaVine’s trade value has never been higher.

Does executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas believe enough in LaVine and this squad to stand pat or even be a buyer? The next three weeks might go a long way in determining that, especially if the Bulls can stay hot during a soft part of the schedule.

LaVine made his stance on the matter clear, but he also said he’s staying out of it.

“Every year, I get asked the same question [around the] trade deadline,’’ LaVine said. “Whoever is on our team, I fight with those guys, I play for them. I’m happy to be on this team, and I’m happy to say that whoever we play, I’m confident. The front office is going to do what they have to do because it’s their job. I do what I do on the court.’’

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