Bulls guard Zach LaVine is chasing the gold standard of greatness
LaVine has had many individual accomplishments, but he has never been part of a successful championship team in college or the NBA. Team USA can change all that for him, and he’s hoping to take some valuable lessons back to the Bulls.
Bulls business will have to wait.
The way guard Zach LaVine sees it, the contract-extension talks are “going to play out the right way . . . we should be in talks soon, and we’ll see what happens.’’
The more pressing matter is capturing Olympic gold as a first-time member of Team USA as it prepares to take down the rest of the hoops world in Tokyo.
And maybe, just maybe, the LaVine narrative finally can change.
Even though the LaVine brand never has shined brighter, and he’s coming off a career season in which he averaged 27.4 points on 50.7% shooting and became a first-time All-Star, it’s a team sport. And that’s where LaVine has come up dry since being selected 13th overall in the 2014 draft. It has been losing season after losing season.
The case can be made that LaVine is the best player in the league not to appear in a playoff game. It’s not exactly something he’s proud of.
But Team USA can help change that.
“I was extremely enthusiastic, and it’s an honor,’’ LaVine said on a Zoom call Friday. “I would never turn this down. It just shows that obviously I’ve been on the right path to be selected. I’ve been trying to do the right things and just let my hard work and my game speak for itself. I just want to bring back winning, a winning mentality.
“These are guys that have been around winning. This will probably be the best team that I’ll be around, so try to compete for gold, pick up little tricks and just that mentality of how they approach practice, pregame, things like that, talks in the locker room. All that stuff I’m trying to bring back and add some little extra ammo for my own well-being.’’
And that means the well-being of the Bulls.
Being surrounded by Kevin Durant and Draymond Green — multiple-championship winners — is the ultimate tutorial. Then factor in being asked to do the dirty work on a team loaded with scoring power, and it will be a shame if LaVine doesn’t come back a better teammate.
“Zach is someone we wanted on our team,’’ Team USA/Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “We are trying to put a team together, and that takes a lot of different elements, and we are looking to have as many tools as we can depending on what we run into. So everybody fits a role in some way. With Zach, he is somebody who really wanted to do this, number one. His physical skills are abundant and obvious. His length, his athleticism, I think, will translate very well. He wants to play defense to the nth degree. He knows that’s what we want from him.
“He’s somebody that I think is very different from most other players that we have on the team. Those are the skills and things we are looking for from him.’’
Zach LaVine — Team USA stopper?
OK, that’s a believe-it-when-we-see-it proposition.
“Throughout the practices [in Las Vegas], I’ve been picking up full-court, trying to turn guys, being really active, being in passing lanes,’’ LaVine said, sounding like he’s buying into that side of the ball. “I think that’s going to help me this next year with my conditioning to where I can go out there and try to be one of the top defenders.’’
Imagine the price tag the Bulls would have to pony up for Zach LaVine: Two-way player.
Then he’ll deserve the max, no questions asked.
But as LaVine said, that’s business for a later day.
There’s gold to chase down.