Zach LaVine of the Bulls is eager to play after being out for more than 11 months. The 22-year-old guard tore a knee ligament in February and was traded from Minnesota to Chicago in June.
Zach LaVine paused a moment to ponder the question.
Asked to describe the past year — during which he went from a highflying Minnesota Timberwolves guard to suffering a serious knee injury to getting traded to the Chicago Bulls in the midst of months of rehabilitation to being cleared to play again — LaVine finally settled on, “It’s been some ups and downs.”
On the eve of his biggest “up,” his debut with the Bulls on Saturday night against visiting Detroit, Bothell High School graduate LaVine was contemplative about his time away from the game and his struggle to return to it.
“I’ve had some good times, a lot of struggles, a lot of pain and thoughts with yourself,” the 22-year-old guard said. “I’ve had a lot of joy as well, just the excitement of coming back and enjoying the process of being in the gym late nights and working and grinding to get back to where you need to be. You enjoy that part of getting back into the game, and I appreciate the rehab doing that for me.”
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LaVine admits to some doubts creeping into his head during those late nights in the gym, but said he is ready to move on with his life and career after tearing the ACL in his left knee Feb. 3, 2017.
“It’s 11 months, (so) you have doubts and little things like, ‘Will I be able to do this again?’ or ‘I won’t be the same,’ ” LaVine said. “Then the next day, you’re better at it or better at something else. I tried to stay even-keeled and steady through the process, (and) I feel like that’s what got me through it.”
Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said LaVine will start against the Pistons.
“To get him out there right away is important — that’s going to be his role as a starter,” Hoiberg said. “I had conversations with all the guys (about how) it is going to affect the rotation and minutes, and everyone has taken it great. The bottom line is, all of our guys are excited about getting Zach back in the lineup.”
They aren’t as excited as the man himself, who will start in the backcourt alongside Kris Dunn, who also came to the Bulls in the June trade of All-Star Jimmy Butler to Minnesota.
“I’m … ready to get back to playing again,” said LaVine, who has career averages of 13.7 points, 2.9 rebounds and 3.2 assists. “You wait all this time, do all this rehab (and) it doesn’t simulate actual games. Going through practices and scrimmages (doesn’t) give you that full itch. Now I have something I can go after.”
LaVine said he got over the mental aspect of playing on a repaired knee “pretty fast.”
“First practice, first scrimmage, I went in there and tried to dunk,” he said. “I got hit (and) fell on the ground, so I wouldn’t feel any type of way. I’m 100 percent. I play the same way.
“You can ask my teammates, I’m still good.”
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