CHICAGO — Chicago Bulls star Zach LaVine said he and coach Billy Donovan are « all good » and that he doesn’t want to blow one game out of proportion after LaVine took issue with not playing down the stretch of Friday’s 108-107 loss to the Orlando Magic.
LaVine, a two-time All-Star, scored four points on 1-of-14 shooting Friday before getting sent to the bench for the final 3 minutes, 43 seconds while Chicago went on to lose its fourth straight game. LaVine voiced his displeasure with the decision that night but cleared the air with Donovan at practice the next day.
« I just told him I feel like I’ve earned the right to go out there and try to play through a bad game, » LaVine said after practice Sunday. « His decision was to try to do the best thing for the team, which I respect. If we won, obviously, I would’ve been ecstatic. We lost, I wasn’t. I had a terrible game.
« But it’s one game, man. I don’t want to get this blown out of proportion to the point we’re talking about a loss, where we’ve had multiple losses this year. We got a lot of games left this year . We’re all good. I think he understands where I’m coming from and I understand his decision as a coach that he has to make are tough, even if your players don’t agree with it. »
Donovan said he took no issue with LaVine — who signed a five-year, $215 million max contract in the offseason — wanting to be on the floor during crunch time, but he stood by his decision to do what he felt was needed to try and win Friday’s game.
« I totally get his competitiveness and his wanting to win and be out there, » Donovan said Sunday. « He should. I think all great players want to be able to do that.
« I felt in that moment in time it was best for the team. And I think he knows that I’ll always try to put the team first and do what’s best for the team. I also respect him from the standpoint, his opinion, he thought he needed to be out there, that was best for the team. »
After falling behind by as many as 19 points in the first half, the Bulls stormed back to take the lead in the fourth quarter with LaVine on the bench. He had not scored so few points since March 2018, according to research from ESPN Stats & Information, and this was the worst shooting game of his career (minimum 10 shots).
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 allowed Magic guard Jalen Suggs to hit the game-winning 3-pointer.
« That second unit, the other guys he brought in, they did a great job of coming back into the game and it was a very winnable situation, » LaVine said. « I told [Donovan] at the very least bring me in for free throws. I think I could’ve helped at least seal the game with free throws and help get the ball in bounds. I’m one of the best players on the court regardless of who’s playing, and I think that I should be on the court in crunch time, and that’s just the mentality I have. »
Donovan said he understood LaVine’s point about the late-game free throw situation, even though he wasn’t sure if he would have made any difference considering Vucevic is shooting a career-high 87.8% from the line this season.
Still, both Donovan and LaVine touted the strength of their relationship and frequent communication with each other as they aimed to move past this incident.
« Anytime you’re in a very, very competitive environment, there’s always going to be frustrations or disappointments or people are going to get upset, » Donovan said. « But I always feel like I can say anything to Zach and I think he can say anything to me. »
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’s gonna be uncomfortable days. Just like in any sport or any business, you’re not gonna agree on every decision made. So you talk about it, you move on from it and you understand where the other side is coming from. »