By Cody Westerlund–

(670 The Score) While Bulls guard Zach LaVine continues to hit every benchmark as planned in his rehab from surgery on his left ACL, executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson cautioned that he may not be ready to play in mid-January, which had been the most recent target date the team floated.

“I do want to temper it a little bit,” Paxson said Monday in an interview with David Schuster on 670 The Score. “I’ve also said we’re going to be very cautious with Zach and getting him back on the floor. It’s just the right thing to do. He’s going to need to get a number of good, hard practices underneath him where his body responds the right way. It’s not just about the knee — it’s about how he feels physically.”

LaVine has yet to participate in hard full-contact practices on back-to-back days. Doing so is one of the final steps in his recovery, and the Bulls hope to get that process underway late this week, using the G League affiliate Windy City Bulls as needed too.

The Bulls have also discussed the idea of having LaVine play for Windy City before he returns to NBA action, Paxson said. A centerpiece of Jimmy Butler trade last June, LaVine suffered his torn ACL early last February while with the Timberwolves.

While Paxson didn’t address this specifically, the Bulls’ desire to obtain a high lottery pick in the 2018 draft is surely in the back of their minds in setting a return timeline for LaVine, who figures to help immensely on a team that has the worst offensive efficiency rating in the league. The Bulls started 3-20 before going on a seven-game winning streak. Their current 10-22 mark is the fourth-worst record in the league.

“You just can’t expect the body to be ready for the grind of the NBA,” Paxson said. “We’re going to have to be really careful. We talked about the possibility of playing him in some games with our G League affiliate in Hoffman Estates sometime in January. There’s a timeline, but it’s very flexible and we’re going to have to see. I would temper some of this in terms of like to be pinned down on a date, I’m not going to get caught up on that.

“Coming off this type of injury, there’s going to be a process in place. We’re going to listen to the medical people, we’re going to listen to Zach, we’re going to listen to how his body responds, all those things. Decisions will be made very, very calculated.”

LaVine will likely be on a limit of 12 to 18 minutes when he first returns. He’ll slot in as a starting wing as soon as he’s fully ready.

“In terms of the type of player that Zach can be, just in watching him rehab and come back, his athleticism is back,” Paxson said. “He’s running and jumping, he moves like a basketball player when you watch him. And his skill set is something we desire. He can shoot the basketball, he can run in transition the way we want to play. The way the game is being played now, he checks all the boxes.”

Paxson also addressed the possibility of the Bulls making a deal ahead of the Feb. 8 trade deadline, which seems likely with veterans like Robin Lopez, Niko Mirotic and Justin Holiday capable of helping a playoff contender and not fitting Chicago’s long-term rebuilding plans.

“We’re always going to do what’s in the best interest of the Bulls,” Paxson said. “We’re not just going to hand a player to a team for nothing. That’s not going to be our strategy. It would have to be beneficial to us. That goes to what we talk about in terms of patience. We have to be patient and disciplined.”