By Cody Westerlund–
CHICAGO (670 The Score) — As far back as two months ago, Bulls guard Zach LaVine was pushing team officials and doctors to let him return to game action.
After the expected conservative approach regarding his rehab from left ACL surgery, LaVine has finally been cleared. He will return when the Bulls host the Pistons on Saturday evening, debuting in a Chicago uniform on his bobblehead night, no less.
It’s been a long time coming in his mind after he tore his ACL last Feb. 3 while playing with the Timberwolves.
“Just knowing the date, when I actually found out, I got a little bit of butterflies and got excited,” LaVine said. “Just looking forward to something you love to do again, it’s a really good feeling.”
LaVine will initially be on a 20-minute limit. The Bulls won’t save those minutes for crunch time, executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said, and they’re still deciding whether he’ll start or come off the bench initially.
Hoiberg indicated the Bulls could ramp up LaVine’s minutes load after his first three games or so. LaVine won’t play on Feb. 10, which is the second of the Bulls’ lone remaining back-to-back before the All-Star break, Paxson said. His status for back-to-backs beyond that will be re-evaluated at the All-Star break.
LaVine is content with the minutes limit to start, joking that hopefully Hoiberg would insert him in the final three seconds of crunch time if need be.
“That’s something I’m just going to have to deal with and for the coaches to manage,” LaVine said. “That’s something that’s outside of my realm. I’m going to go out there and play the 20 minutes or whatever it is without thinking about that restriction at the end. I feel like that’s more for them to manage and for me to go out there and play and perform.”
When LaVine is on the floor, he has no restrictions in what he can do, and the Bulls want him to go as hard as possible.
“You want him to feel normal,” Paxson said. “You want him to feel that he can do whatever he wants to do. That’s going to be the true test anyway. All the metrics in terms of what he’s done, his jumping, his speed, those things, we had baseline numbers from him when he came out of the draft, he’s exceeded those in his rehab.”
Hoiberg is intrigued to get LaVine on the court with point guard Kris Dunn and guard David Nwaba to form an athletic backcourt. Without LaVine, the Bulls started 3-20. That included a 10-game losing streak that was then followed by a seven-game winning streak, which was unprecedented in NBA history.
LaVine averaged 18.9 points and shot 38.7 percent on 3-pointers in 2016-’17. Asked how he’ll judge success, he responded by saying “going out there and feeling good.” Paxson tempered expectations a bit as well for LaVine, a centerpiece of the Jimmy Butler trade who will be a restricted free agent come July.
“My expectations are just get him back in the flow of playing basketball,” Paxson said. “There are no expectations in terms of how he’s going to play. If he misses shots, so be it. The long term is where we’re coming from. It’s not tomorrow. It’s not next week. It’s what it’s all about going forward.”
With that in mind, Paxson downplayed the notion that the rebuilding Bulls are winning too much for their own good at 14-27 at the midway point, saying he’s pleased with the play of the team’s youngsters. LaVine figures to help that equation.
So how many wins is LaVine good for?
“Hopefully 40,” he said with a laugh. “Anybody gone on a 40-game winning streak? I don’t think so. I’m going to go out there and do the best I can do. I’m a team player, I’m a winner. At the end of the day, that’s all I want to do. I want to go out there and help the best I can.”
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for 670TheScore.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.