Zach LaVine has earned a big stamp of approval from Tom Thibodeau

MINNEAPOLIS — Tom Thibodeau doesn’t put ceilings on players.

Especially a player such as Zach LaVine.

“Nah, he’s young, and he’ll continue to improve,’’ Thibodeau said Friday when asked whether LaVine has shown signs of reaching his maximum potential through three seasons.

Thibodeau should know.

The former Bulls coach — now in charge of the Timberwolves — saw the same kind of jump in talent with Jimmy Butler each year. Entering his seventh season, Butler is still on an upward trajectory.

One major difference between the two is one major surgery.

LaVine suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in February. A blown tire at age 21 will test the 6-5, high-flying guard, but Thibodeau said he has the stuff to recover.

“He’s coming off a major injury so he’ll need a little bit of time, but he’s a great guy,’’ Thibodeau said. “[The Bulls] are getting a high-character guy, a great worker and a guy that has improved each year he’s been in the league.

“It was hard to give him up, but to get some of the things we feel we needed to compete in the West, we knew we were going to have to give something up. So we did.’’

That they did on draft night, swapping first-round picks and sending LaVine and Kris Dunn to the Bulls for Butler. That doesn’t mean LaVine won’t be missed.

“It was tough because he was my best friend on the team, but Chicago is a great opportunity for him,’’ Timberwolves guard Andrew Wiggins said. “He has a chance to do something special there. I know he’s excited. I’m excited for him, and also Jimmy’s with us. A proven All-Star, a playmaker, the defense, the attitude, but obviously I was sad to see Zach go.’’

These days, Wiggins is just excited to see when his good friend will play again.

That also goes for the Bulls, who have been vague about LaVine’s timeline.

During the Summer League, LaVine insisted he wanted to be ready for the start of the regular season. But on a radio show last week, vice president of basketball operations John Paxson reiterated that wouldn’t happen.

Considering the Bulls’ history with torn ACLs, proceeding with caution is prudent.

There likely will be more clarity with LaVine’s status Monday, when the Bulls open training camp with media day, but the team won’t rush him for several reasons.

First, the Bulls have started to rebuild, and losing games is part of the deal.

Second, the Bulls have to decide if and when they want to buy Dwyane Wade out of his $23.8 million contract. If LaVine is ready to return at some point this season, he and Wade basically play the same position. That’s a problem for a team looking to develop its young core.

Follow me on Twitter @suntimes_hoops.

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com

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