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Chicago Sun Times
Chicago Sun-Times
18 Nov 2023
https://chicago.suntimes.com/authors/scoop-jackson


NextImg:Zach LaVine isn’t the problem — the Bulls are

‘‘Ladies, if you got 14 women hating on you, you need to figure out how the — to get to 16 before the summer gets here. Fellas, if you got 20 haters, you need 40 of them —, what [are] you complaining about? If there’s any haters in here right now that don’t have nobody to hate on, feel free to hate on me.” — Katt Williams, gospel

It was his swan-song game. A game that was all on him because his “equaled half” wasn’t present because of personal issues. The game that will go down as the official beginning of his end. At least here in Chicago. Everything that happens afterward is just one step closer to the exit. Closer to the art of noise that has been his time here.

Zach LaVine, one of the best bad-shot makers in the league, ended Wednesday’s winnable game against the Magic with two Kobe-esque threes that turned a 19-point deficit in the third quarter into a tie game with 7.5 seconds left. We all know swans don’t sing, but damn. The franchise player on the day in which he finally (an important word) spoke out loud about the years-old, ongoing trade rumors buzzarding around his existence with the Bulls being real — turning rumor into acceptance — never touched the ball again once Orlando took the lead with 1.4 seconds left. 

“We had our best player make the plays to get us in the situation, and they went to theirs,” Bulls announcer Stacey King said into the mic immediately after the Bulls’ two-point loss to the Magic.

The “our best player” in that statement stands out. Probably because King probably would have used the same phrasing if DeMar DeRozan was on the floor. But the Bulls still took another ‘‘L.’’ And LaVine’s reality only got realer. If Wednesday’s game didn’t show any of us anything, it solidified in all haters’ minds that LaVine will never be enough. He had a heroic 34-point performance Friday in the follow-up loss to the Magic.

Now that it has become a foregone conclusion that LaVine won’t finish the season — or the year or maybe the month — in a Bulls uniform, the time has come to look at the other side of the coin. The non-basketball side. The side that gets lost in the W-L percentage, in the data-searching analytics that will be used to make the Bulls getting rid of him make absolute sense. Because what will be the focus is how $40 million is a lot of single-season money to give a player and a hard price to move when an organization wants to part ways.

But in a marketplace in which 90% of every team’s base operating budget by law has to be spent, then where the $40M is going is more of a concern than the $40M itself. And at some point by either trade deadline or end of the season, some team will look at their 40-mill assets and realize that LaVine might be a better option. It always happens that way in the NBA. 

What doesn’t always happen in the NBA? A max-paid player handling never-ending trade rumors with the dignity LaVine has. Something that we should recognize, appreciate and applaud.

At any point, LaVine could have done a Ben Simmons/Anthony Davis/Kyrie Irving/Jimmy Butler/Kevin Durant/James Harden-type move that he had the right to exercise. Put his private feelings and frustrations out on Front Street & Madison and/or put the organization on blast for whatever (right or wrong) reason he chose to use as an exit strategy and hold the Bulls hostage to his requests by half-assing it on the court or finding a legal loophole in his contract or new league rules that afforded him the room to not play at all without losing bags of commas and zeros.

But he didn’t. LaVine played the game off the court the way the Bulls laid it out for it to be played until he couldn’t play it any longer. Until he realized the “game” was over. Which at this point, it is.

So peace, Zach. Appreciate all you’ve done. Keep collecting haters. Keeping it dignified at 200 when 100 would have been good enough. Unfortunately, this will all be the same without you. The targets’ll just shift. The city, the haters, the self-proclaimed basketball savants, the Bulls’ organization will focus on another scapegoat, another player, another purpose and reason as to why things remain the way they have.

You won’t look at it as a blessing in this moment, but once far enough removed, you will. Same way Khalil Mack did, same way Roquan Smith did, same as David Montgomery is doing right now in their rearviews from the Bears. Same way DeMar will once the Bulls decide to seal his fate the way they’re doing yours.

Just leave knowing the Bulls are in need of a total culture change. Period. What that entails is not for us or you to decide because we aren’t the ones inside the organization who established, cultivated and allowed the disposable, irreconcilable culture to exist. But if we’re honest, we know it ain’t all — or a lot of it — on you. But know until you’re gone, they’re going to make you feel like it is.