This is a bend in the road but not the end of the road for Robin Lopez.
The 29-year-old Bulls center will play in the NBA again, and he hopes it will be with the Bulls. But for now, with a rebuild in full swing, Lopez has accepted his role and is stepping aside like the team player he is.
After starting all 57 games this season and 138 of 139 games in two seasons in Chicago, Lopez was inactive Thursday against the 76ers as the Bulls seek to evaluate 6-10 Cristiano Felicio and 6-9 Noah Vonleh.
“It was rough for me. [But] I get it. I understand it,” Lopez said. “I always want to be out there playing on the court. That’s what I enjoy, especially with these guys. But I’m excited to watch these guys give it a go from the bench.”
Lopez was averaging a career-high 12.3 points and 4.7 rebounds and shooting 52.7 percent from the field in 28 minutes per game this season. He still could be in the Bulls’ plans for next season and wasn’t ready to contemplate whether it would have been better if they’d traded him before the deadline.
“That’s hard for me to talk about because I don’t know the situation I could have been in had I been traded,” Lopez said. “I want to be playing, obviously, but we’ve got a great group of guys here. I’m healthy right now. And I think this squad has a bright future, and I think I can be a part of that.”
Coach Fred Hoiberg indicated that guard Zach LaVine still won’t play in back-to-back games until further notice. The Bulls play at Brooklyn and Charlotte on Monday and Tuesday.
LaVine, who averaged 31 minutes heading into Thursday night’s game, said he’s “always ready” for every game. But he understands why the team is cautious.
“I don’t know how much control I’ve got in that, but I always want to play,” he said. “There’s no reason I want to sit out. I sat out enough games this year. It might be a little above my head, though.”
Hoiberg seemed intrigued by newcomer Vonleh, who was acquired Feb. 8 from the Trail Blazers for the rights to center Milovan Rakovic. Vonleh scored six points on 2-for-4 three-point shooting in the waning minutes of the Trail Blazers’ 124-108 blowout victory over the visiting Bulls on Feb. 1. But other than that, Hoiberg doesn’t know much about him in game situations.
“We’re still learning what he can do,” Hoiberg said of Vonleh, the No. 9 overall pick by the Hornets in 2014. “When Portland beat us by 100 out there, he was raining threes like Ray Allen. He’s got the third biggest hands in the league. But he’s got good physical tools. He’s long, he’s active. He communicates out there.”
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