With the Chicago Bulls' 2021-22 season in the rearview, Zach LaVine soon plans to visit with a specialist and determine next steps for treatment of the left knee soreness that has nagged him since January.
While no date is set for the appointment, LaVine revealed that plan to reporters while speaking over Zoom — because of his recent entry into the NBA's health and safety protocols — for his end-of-season media availability. Asked if the knee will require surgery, LaVine said he is not yet sure.
"Obviously I have to go into the offseason and figure out how to get back to 100 percent — I played this year not at 100 percent — and figure out the best plan, strategy to get my knee feeling back to normal," LaVine said. "Right now, I don’t know (about surgery). We’ll figure that out."
LaVine left a Jan. 14 loss to the Warriors in the first quarter after tweaking the knee, which he had surgically repaired to address a torn ACL in 2017. Lingering discomfort ensued, which cost him 10 games between mid-January and February's All-Star break. Just before the break, LaVine visited a specialist in Los Angeles, received targeted treatment and pledged to play through pain for the remainder of the season.
He appeared in 20 of a possible 23 games after the break, and four of five in the postseason before entering the protocols, but was at times noticeably impaired by the ailment.
"Everybody has to deal with stuff throughout the year. I don’t think anybody is playing at 100 percent (health)," LaVine said. "If you want to play, you’re going to do whatever you can. Whether that’s hours of prep work or our training staff, that’s me having to annoy them at nighttime or early mornings just to get me out there. Bunch of prep work, obviously, overtime work, just training. Almost a little mind over matter because if you want to play, you’ve got out there and sacrifice a little bit."
LaVine averaged 25.6 points, 4.3 assists and 4.9 rebounds with 49.1/41.2/87.2 percent shooting splits in 37 games before that fateful Warriors contest. In his final 29 regular-season appearances after Jan. 14, he averaged 23.7 points, 5 assists and 4.4 rebounds with 45.5/36/83.7 percent shooting splits. In four playoff games against an elite Bucks defense, he averaged 19.3 points, 6 assists and 5.3 rebounds with 42.9/37.5/93.3 percent splits.
"I think you guys know this about me now, I don’t really care what people think of me. I live up to my own expectations. I think I’m my hardest critic. I know what I was doing," LaVine said. "I’m going out there, sacrificing, putting my team before myself, regardless of contract year. That’s how important this year was to me, basketball-wise. You know, me managing my knee at the percentage it was, I think I still had a hell of a year. I was an All-Star, helped the team get back to the playoffs. I put up really, really good numbers, was able to maintain this and really figure out how to play not at 100 percent. I think that was impressive."
The elephant room now is one that LaVine mentions there: His contract. For the first time in his NBA career, LaVine will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason. He's due for a big pay raise and made clear Friday that he will be exploring all options at his disposal — inside and outside of Chicago.
But the first order of business is getting back to 100 percent health and assuaging concerns that this ailment could foreshadow long-term durability issues.