Bulls

Bulls guard Zach LaVine growing ‘frustrated’ with his own inconsistency

Bulls guard Zach LaVine thought he would be better than this. He always thinks he has room for improvement, but this is different.

LaVine was 1-for-11 from the field Monday against the Celtics, 8-for-14 on Wednesday against the Grizzlies and 3-for-15 on Friday against the Pistons.

He knew there would be some inconsistency after missing almost 11 months with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, but he thought the ups and downs would be fewer 21 games into his return. They’re not.

‘‘It’s just frustrating with the consistency,’’ LaVine said. ‘‘You have two good games, two bad games, a good game, a bad game, something like that. I’m not used to having that, so it’s frustrating. But you’ve gotta fight through it. You can’t keep your head down for too long. Get it out of your head and get on to the next one.’’

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LaVine is doing his best to have a short-term memory, but he knows this is a big year for him. Forget about being a key piece in the Jimmy Butler trade; he is looking for a big payday this summer.

LaVine, who turned 23 on Saturday, will be a restricted free agent after the season. And while the Bulls have every intention of re-signing him, negotiating his value will be tricky.

LaVine played a supporting role in his three seasons with the Timberwolves, but he now will be looking for leading-man money. His representatives and the Bulls had good discussions in training camp, but he might not be negotiating from a position of strength, especially if he remains inconsistent in the last 17 games.

There aren’t many teams that will have excess money to spend this offseason, so the Bulls can sit back, let the market dictate LaVine’s value and simply match any offer he receives.

‘‘We’ll worry about that in the offseason,’’ LaVine said recently.

His immediate concerns are about stringing good games together. What makes that tough, though, is the Bulls’ ever-changing personnel from game to game.

‘‘Yeah, but we’re going to go out there and play hard regardless,’’ LaVine said. ‘‘It’s our job to play under those circumstances, so we’ve gotta make it happen. At the end of the day, it’s on us; we’re the ones playing. It is frustrating a little bit, but it’s what we’re dealing with.’’

One person LaVine has in his corner is coach Fred Hoiberg. He was expecting LaVine to struggle with his rhythm offensively, so he hasn’t been worried about that. What Hoiberg wanted to see was LaVine improve his defense, and he said he has.

‘‘The biggest improvement with Zach has been his on-ball competitiveness,’’ Hoiberg said. ‘‘He wants to guard the best player. He has given us some very good minutes with on-ball defense. Off the ball, he still needs work. We watch film with him every day on that to make improvements where he’s a complete defensive player. It’s understanding where to be and the right spots.

‘‘It’s tough. Zach had almost a full calendar year off. Just to get himself back into the type of shape to make a positive impact in all
areas, he’s still working on that.’’

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Email: jcowley@suntimes.com