Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich
Zach LaVine's trying season reached a crescendo Saturday afternoon when the Chicago Bulls announced that the two-time All-Star guard will undergo season-ending foot surgery.
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LaVine, who missed 17 games with the injury earlier this season before returning to play seven and then re-aggravating it after spraining his ankle, finishes the 2023-24 season with averages of 19.5 points and 3.9 assists, shooting below the elite percentages he posted the previous three seasons. He played in just 25 of the Bulls' 49 games.
The Bulls said LaVine and his agency, Klutch Sports, in consultation with the Bulls' medical and training staffs, opted for surgery after seeking additional medical opinions. Surgery is scheduled for next week. He will be sidelined four to six months.
"I spent a little bit of time with him at shootaround, just talking and seeing how he was feeling," coach Billy Donovan said. "Obviously, he made a decision that he felt was best for his health. I really feel like he did everything he could to try to get himself back to playing. I think the discomfort in his foot was at a place where he just didn't feel like he had any chance of being himself and contributing. And I think that was really frustrating and hard for him.
"Personally, I feel bad for him. I know how bad he wants to play. When he can't be out there, it just bothers him. He just wants to play."
The news deals a significant blow to the Bulls' and LaVine's desire to find him a new home in advance of Thursday's NBA trade deadline. This foot surgery lands on top of LaVine recovering from a left ACL tear in 2017 and subsequent arthroscopic procedure on the same knee in 2022.
The Bulls and Pistons had engaged on trade talks centered on LaVine, league sources had previously confirmed. One of the latest iterations, league sources said, focused on Bojan Bogdanovic and Joe Harris, although one source indicated no deal was imminent. It's unknown if draft capital landed in that proposal.
Here's what LaVine said about the injury in early December, when he was first shut down.
“It bugs you, a boney, prominent area,” LaVine said then. “You really don’t want to start messing around with that, that fifth metatarsal area and it gets more and more irritated. It’s just smart to calm it down now to where I can get back to 100% and hopefully finish the season strong and help everybody out.”
If this injury scares off teams for trading for LaVine, which is likely, the question of course becomes: Does management pivot off their previous stance of not wanting to deal DeMar DeRozan or Alex Caruso by Thursday?
League sources indicated that even before LaVine's surgery news had broken, multiple teams, including the Golden State Warriors, had inquired on Caruso. To this point, management largely had rebuffed interest in Caruso because an internal focus centered on chasing a playoff spot.
Donovan said it's too early to know if LaVine's setback will change the organizational philosophy in advance of Thursday's trade deadline.
"When something is imminent, they're going to bring it to me," Donovan said of management. "I never heard of, 'This is our plan. This is what we're doing.' . . . I am 1,000 percent confident and assured that I'll be part of those conversations, 'OK, this is what happened. This is what our team looks like last year. Lonzo (Ball) is in the middle of his rehab and he still has a ways to go before he gets on the court, although he has made significant progress, which is good.
"I just don't know when those conversations will take place or what their thought is. This just happened. . . . It really starts to ramp up 48 hours before the deadline. Artūras (Karnišovas) and I talk all the time. And I think when there's pertinent things that he needs to bring to me, he does."
It's common practice for players to seek second opinions regarding their bodies and careers. However, given the way the Bulls' official news release was worded---placing the surgery choice on LaVine and his agency---Donovan fielded a question on whether or not there was a disconnect between LaVine's interests and the Bulls'.
"It's definitely Zach's decision," Donovan said, without rancor. "Giving him a week was the consultation part to be able to get other opinions. The one thing I respect about our medical group is they've always been really open to making sure the guys get the best medical care. So whether it was Patrick Williams breaking his wrist and going to a wrist specialist or Lonzo's knee, there are always going to be second and third opinions.
"So I think when that week ended and we didn't have a lot of information, a lot of it was predicated on Zach trying to gather as much information as he could from different foot specialists. He did meet with somebody in California when we were on that trip and he had some consultation with some doctors over the phone. And I think everybody here in the organization has been very supportive to figure out what's the best course of action. Everybody has been in lockstep."
Donovan also emphasized how hard LaVine worked to try to return.
"He has been in the weight room, lifting. The other day after practice, he was in (the trainer's room) having his foot worked on," Donovan said. "So he's really, really tried and been really, really diligent about trying to come in as much as he can to try to get it rectified and back to playing."
Caruso said he feels for LaVine.
"It sucks for him," Caruso said. "We feel for him."
Asked what his preference is in advance of the trade deadline and interest in his services, Caruso took the high road.
"Out of my control completely," Caruso said. "I'm more focused on playing against the Kings. And then we got five more games until All-Star break until I can mentally relax. Whatever they decide to do is their decision. My job as an employee of this team is to show up and do my duty. And that's to play basketball. That's what I'm focused on."