LaVine putting team first while knee remains sub-100%


MIAMI — Zach LaVine’s left knee isn’t 100 percent.

Let’s get that out of the way first. Yes, getting fluid drained from it and receiving an injection in it has made it feel better. But it’s not going to be fully right until he can fully address it this offseason.

What that will entail, LaVine doesn’t yet know.

“That’s going to be a discussion for me and my doctor to figure out a plan of action to make me feel that I can get back to 100 percent,” LaVine said Wednesday following the Chicago Bulls’ practice at FTX Arena. “I mean my knee isn’t 100 percent. That’s just the reality of it.

“You can go look at it from my game with Golden State on. I’m not going to be 100 percent the same way. Now can I still go out here and contribute? I can still do that, but it’s just something I’ve got to fight through until the end of the season. I’m not going to be a person that shuts it down. We’re having a great year. I’m having a good year, so I’m going to go out there and help my team anyway I can.

“I might not be 100 percent. But me at 80 percent, 70 percent, whatever it is, it’s still one of the best players in the NBA. So, damn sure one of the best players on the court when we play.”

To LaVine's point, he is averaging 23.2 points on 44.4 percent shooting (35.3 percent from 3-point range) in 12 appearances since leaving a 138-96 home loss to the Warriors on Jan. 14 with what was later termed knee soreness. Great numbers for most. But below his usual standard.

After missing five games between Jan. 15 and 23, then another five in February due to a combination of knee discomfort and back spasms, LaVine visited the doctor who performed the February 2017 surgery to repair his torn left anterior cruciate ligament before the All-Star break. The visit helped him both physically and mentally.

But the visit, which was done in conjunction with the Bulls’ medical staff, was a temporary solution.

“I’ll deal with it later. We don’t know what that is going to be and how exactly we’re going to approach it. But it is pretty much like a bandaid,” LaVine admitted. “It’s making me feel better for the time being and getting me to a place where I feel comfortable playing and being effective on the court over this last stretch. And then the offseason, I’ll deal with whatever I have to.”

LaVine has buried the always inaccurate label of being selfish and an empty-calories scorer long ago. If he hasn’t with his actions, words from his teammates and coaches have.

Everybody knows LaVine will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason. If he re-signs with the Bulls with a full five-year deal, it will be upwards of $200 million — more if he makes an All-NBA team and becomes eligible for a supermax contract.

Instead of focusing on that, he’s playing at less than 100 percent because he knows how special this season’s opportunity is and what his first crack at postseason basketball will mean to him.

“It’s a big commitment. I feel like if I haven’t shown that by playing through these injuries or if it was about worrying about a contract, there are people who shut that stuff down immediately,” LaVine said. “I just don’t take it that way. I have a big responsibility here with the team, my teammates, my coaches, the city of Chicago. I take a lot of pride in that. It means something to me. And I hope people understand that I’m going out here and definitely not putting myself first here in this situation.

“I don’t get my contract right now. I’m not a free agent until the end of the season. So until then, I’m focused on the season. It’s pretty black and white to me.”

And so LaVine’s off days are spent with even more recovery routine time. He joked that he’s wearing out Michael Orr, the team’s physical therapist.

“If it didn’t feel sturdy or structurally right, I wouldn’t be playing,” LaVine said. “I don’t want to say I’m not dumb, but you know, I’m not going to go out there and risk really [expletive] something up. It’s a little restrictive motion, some pain here and there, but everybody has to deal with that. I’m OK dealing with that and still going out and playing.’

“I’ve just got to do a lot more recovery just to make sure I’m OK. Obviously the stretching, Michael Orr has been incredible, working a little overtime with me. The injection really did help with how I was moving and feeling before. It made a big difference. It just gave me a little bit more range of motion, took the swelling out of there obviously when I had it drained. That all helps with pain.’’

And so LaVine charges ahead. He’s not focused on individual stats or anything but savoring this winning season and helping his team play as late into the postseason as it can.

Earlier this season, LaVine played through a small ligament tear in his left thumb, his non-shooting hand. It affected his dribbling and scoring for a stretch, but LaVine wore a brace and figured it out.

He’s doing the same with his knee.

“We’re having a great season. I’m having a great season. There’s no woes me for me.There’s nothing for me to be upset about,” LaVine said. “People have to deal with injuries, ups and downs, a lot more than that in real life. We’re seeing that in the world right now. I’m happy. I want to be out here and help my team compete.”

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