Zach LaVine readies for his return

The cavalry is coming; you just hope the village hasn’t burned down by then.

“I’m pushing as much as possible because I want to go play with my guys,” Zach LaVine told reporters Monday in his first formal media comments since training camp began last month. “I should be doing contact really soon. It all depends on (the team). I’m pushing them as hard as I can. I feel great. But at the end of the day we still gotta be careful.

“I’m doing everything I was doing before,” LaVine added. “I’m going to come back, play the same way. If I can go out there and play right now I would try it (dunking). That’s just me. I can still jump, I can still get up, take contact through the hoop. I’m getting ready to be used to that again. I’m pretty sure I can do contact, but we’ve got to stick to that schedule. Trying to as close to 100 percent as I can before I come back.’

Zach LaVine #8 of the Minnesota Timberwolves dunks the ball during the Verizon Slam Dunk Contest during State Farm All-Star Saturday Night as part of the 2016 NBA All-Star Weekend on February 13, 2016 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said Kris Dunn is back to full scrimmaging with the team after his finger dislocation and might play Saturday when the Bulls host Oklahoma City. LaVine, certainly the main part of the Jimmy Butler trade as a two-time slam dunk champion who was averaging 18.9 per game last season before an ACL tear in his left knee, probably will start some scrimmaging in a few weeks, Hoiberg said. The timetable for a full return remains unclear since the Bulls do not plan to rush LaVine, who seems to be taking care of that part of the equation.

His return seems to look like sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas for now.

It would be a time of thanks for the Bulls and a big time gift.

Because with the return of Dunn and LaVine and the way Lauri Markkanen is playing following the Bobby Portis/Nikola Mirotic confrontation, the Bulls would begin to have the makings of the kind of fast, athletic, shooting team they have imagined.

“With the team that we have and the system that coach put in, we’re going to get up a lot of threes,” said LaVine, who shot 39 percent on threes his last two seasons in Minnesota. “When we’re on we’re going to blow some teams out with those threes. When we’re off, as the last couple of games have shown, it’s going to be a struggle to score, sometimes. But I think that’s where I can come in and help, and I can’t wait to get out there and start playing.”

It can’t be too soon for Hoiberg, either. Until then it’s more of that holding the fort thing with a trip to play the Cleveland Cavaliers Tuesday. The Cavs will be without Derrick Rose, who will miss a few games with a sprained ankle. Also, fellow former Bull Dwyane Wade will move to the bench after having difficulty fitting into the Cavs sleeker shooting style in the first few games. The Cavs are 2-1.

The Bulls are 0-2 after losing in Toronto and at home to the Spurs. After an encouraging preseason with swifter and more stylish play, the Bulls have reverted again to more dribbling and limited ball movement with opponents averaging five more assists per game.

Lauri Markkanen #24 of the Chicago Bulls attempts a shot in the fourth quarter against the San Antonio Spurs at the United Center on October 21, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois.

Robin Lopez has been the surprise team scoring leader averaging 17 points and 7.5 rebounds. Rookie Markkanan, getting the unanticipated start after the Portis punch against Mirotic, has been the other principal bright spot, averaging 15 points and a team best 10 rebounds. Justin Holiday also is averaging 15 points, but shooting just 29 percent overall. It’s been a disappointing start for Paul Zipser and Cristiano Felicio, and Jerian Grant, averaging 10 points, has been uneven in getting players involved after a good start. Turnovers have been anathema and all too common, the Bulls averaging just under 20 per game.

The Bulls are basically missing their potential starting backcourt with Dunn and LaVine, which would enable Holiday to move to small forward. And then with Markkanen or Mirotic, the Bulls would have a potentially strong perimeter shooting presence to fit into Hoiberg’s game plan.

“He’s got a skill set that you can do a lot with, starting with his athleticism,” Hoiberg said about the 6-5, 22-year-old LaVine. “He’s the fastest guy on our team; really, one of the fastest guys in the league. His explosiveness, he’s already gotten that back. And his ability to shoot the ball from anywhere on the floor puts another shooter, floor spacer out there that you can do a lot with. Probably three weeks, he’ll be back to full contact if everything stays on schedule. But he’s in a really good place, staying engaged with everything, in all the meetings and film sessions, out here for practices. He’s on the floor more than anybody right now. We got into Toronto the other night, he went over to the arena and got a two-hour workout in, and got another two-hour workout in the next morning. So he’s doing everything in his power. He’s going through a lot of the 5-on-0 stuff. He’s not going with 100 percent pace on it yet, but he is getting an idea about how we’re playing, how we want to play, and he’s going to fit great into what we’re doing.”

And it seems like it could be just the beginning, as Bogart might say, of a beautiful friendship.

 Zach LaVine #8 of the Minnesota Timberwolves handles the ball during the game against the Orlando Magic on January 30, 2017 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

LaVine was eligible for a contract extension before this season, but apparently preferred to wait through his rehabilitation and return to court. It makes sense for both sides, though given that LaVine effectively was the centerpiece of the Butler trade, both sides appear comfortable that there is a long relationship to come.

“It’s been a lot of hard work,” LaVine said. “I’ve been in the gym every day. I’ve been pushing as much as possible, trying to get my body right, try and get my legs under me. I still got a little ways to go. I see some places that I need to get better at. I’m going to just keep pushing it.

“Obviously, I want to be here for a long time,” LaVine confirmed. “I feel the deal is going to get done. I don’t have any fear in that. I think I know I’ll be in black and red for a little bit longer.”

Which will be welcome for all the black and blue the Bulls have been absorbing without LaVine.

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