CHICAGO – Star of the Chicago Bulls Zach Lavine said he and coach Billy Donovan are “all good” and that he doesn’t want to blow a game disproportionately after LaVine had a problem not downplaying the stretch of Friday’s 108-107 loss to the Orlando Magic.
LaVine, a two-time All-Star, scored four points on Friday’s 1-of-14 shooting before being benched for the final 3 minutes and 43 seconds while Chicago lost its fourth straight game. LaVine voiced his displeasure with the decision that night, but cleared the air at practice with Donovan the next day.
“I just told him I felt like I earned the right to go out there and try to play through a bad game,” LaVine said after practice on Sunday. “His decision was to try and do what was best for the team, which I respect. Of course, if we had won I would have been thrilled. We lost, it wasn’t me. I had a terrible game.”
“But it’s a game, man. I don’t want to blow this up to the point where we’re talking about a loss where we’ve had multiple losses this year. We still have a lot of games left this year . We’re all fine. I think he understands where I come from and I understand that the decision he has to make as a coach is tough, even if your players don’t agree with it.”
Donovan said he had no problem with LaVine — who signed a five-year, $215 million-max deal during the offseason — wanting to be grounded during the crunch period, but he stood by his decision to do what he thought it necessary to try and win Friday’s game.
“I understand his competitiveness and his desire to win and be out there,” said Donovan on Sunday. “He should. I think all great players want to be able to do that.
“I felt like it was the best for the team at that moment. And I think he knows I’ll always try to put the team first and do what’s best for the team. I respect him too from his point of view, his opinion, he thought he had to be out there, that was the best thing for the team.”
After falling as much as 19 points in the first half, the Bulls stormed back and took the lead in the fourth quarter with LaVine on the bench. According to research by ESPN Stats & Information, he hadn’t scored that few points since March 2018, and this was the worst shooting game of his career (10 shots minimum).
However, in the final seconds of the game, Bulls Center Nikola Vucevic missed a pair of free throws that would have sealed the win and enabled Magic Guard Jalen Suggs to hit the game-winning 3-pointer.
“That second session, the other guys that he brought did a great job of getting back into the game and it was a very winnable situation,” LaVine said. “I said [Donovan] at least gets me in for free throws. I think I could have at least helped seal the game with free throws and bound the ball. I’m one of the best players on the pitch no matter who’s playing and I think I should be on the pitch at the crucial time and that’s just my mentality.”
Donovan said he understands LaVine’s point about the late-game free-throw situation, although he’s not sure it would have made a difference considering Vucevic has shot a career-high 87.8% off the line this season.
Still, both Donovan and LaVine touted the strength of their relationship and frequent communication with each other as they attempted to overcome this incident.
“Anytime you’re in a very, very competitive environment, there’s always going to be frustration or disappointment or people are going to get upset,” Donovan said. “But I always feel like I can tell Zach anything, and I think he can tell me anything.”
LaVine added, “Me and Billy have a good relationship. We talk all the time. I think he understands, we’re grown men, it’s a grown man’s business. There will be uncomfortable days. Just like in any sport or business, you will not agree with every decision made. So you talk about it, move on and understand where the other side is coming from.”