After nearly two days cooped up in a downtown Chicago hotel, Zach LaVine is back to his happy place. The gym.
“By hour 36, I almost went crazy,” LaVine said of the 36-hour quarantine period necessary for all Bulls players and staff to participate in voluntary group workouts in the Advocate Center. “But I made it through.
“A bunch of video games, Netflix. I talked to my fiancé a lot,” LaVine said on how he passed the time. “Outside of that, it’s been really good being able to get back to some competitive stuff.”
That “competitive stuff,” which began Wednesday, the day after the Bulls hired Billy Donovan as head coach, has ranged from scrimmages to training sessions or individual workouts. Some mess-talking too, as LaVine put it.
Ultimately, he said the workouts represent a chance for teammates long separated to get under the same roof, bop around and build chemistry.
Plus — at long last — hoop.
“We just haven’t played in six months,” LaVine said on what he hopes to get from the workouts. “Realistically, we don’t know when the season is going to start. I’ve already missed out on a year of basketball from injury. You don’t want to miss out on a year off basketball for just no reason. You’re just losing time. It takes time to get that rhythm back.
“So I think we’re doing a good thing here by coming together as a team and get some of the camaraderie again and also just play and have a basketball in your hand in a team setting.”
LaVine was noticeably loose speaking to reporters over Zoom after getting done with the day’s activities. He called the vibe around the gym positive.
“Guys are working. Happy to be in the gym. From what I’ve seen it’s been a really positive vibe getting into the gym, and we haven’t felt that in a long time,” LaVine said. “I think it’s just us being away from each other and being away from the game so when we finally got together again it’s been a lot of fun, positive vibes, positive energy.”
“For the first time yesterday we had a group workout. It was the first time in six months. We had a very excited group here,” Artūras Karnišovas said on Donovan’s introductory conference call. “From being in a hotel to playing ping pong and having meals together and being in the gym, there’s a lot of excitement.”
But let’s talk specifics. How are the cast of characters faring, especially those that have struggled with injury?
“They’re looking good,” LaVine said of his teammates. “Lauri (Markkanen)’s knocking down a lot of shots today. Chandler (Hutchison)’s healthy. Otto (Porter Jr.)’s healthy. Otto out here doing his thing, hitting his stepbacks. You know, I think we’re all doing good. Really happy to see the team healthy again, like you said, we haven’t seen it for a while.”
The best season of LaVine’s career to date was cut short by the pandemic. In it, he became just the fourth Bull in franchise history to eclipse a 25 point-per-game scoring average, and on laudable efficiency. He’s improved in each year of his Bulls tenure, which began while he was rehabbing an ACL tear in 2017.
During the break, he said the focus was on keeping his body right, working out four-to-five times per week. Back in the Bulls’ building, he’s got basketball business to attend to as well.
“Playmaking’s been a big one,” LaVine said when asked in which areas he’s working on taking the next step. “Working on my passes and my playmaking ability because I’ve been able to get to the cup and obviously provide for myself, but now look for others. I think that could be the next step of my game where I’m a much better playmaker and looking to do that a lot better, I think that could take my game to another level.”
He’ll be striving for that under his sixth head coach in seven NBA seasons, Billy Donovan, who LaVine said he’s “extremely excited” to welcome to Chicago.
The rest of the team is too.
“Everybody is really excited. It was unexpected,” LaVine said of the hire. “It was something that I think a lot of people didn’t see coming. I think it just shows what Artūras and Marc (Eversley) are bringing to the table on uplifting the franchise right now. We’re definitely excited and just ready to get after it.
“We’re in the minicamp right now. We haven’t seen each other or talked to each other for awhile. So definitely being a little competitive being able to talk and play a little bit. Also having those conversations of being ready to get ready for next year and really having something to go after.”
The question is: When will all of the above actually happen? Workouts, which Donovan won’t be present for, run through Oct. 6. After they’re done, LaVine said he’ll probably head back to Seattle, provided the air pollution improves, and take a short break before ramping up his training again.
But beyond that, the start date for the 2021 campaign is anyone’s guess. Recent comments by commissioner Adam Silver indicate the start of next season is likely to be delayed until at least January. Even that projection could always slide further.
Whenever the day to officially tip off a new era of Bulls basketball comes, LaVine will be ready.
“It’s gonna be tough, but I think I’m gonna be good,” he said. “I’m gonna come into camp in shape. I don’t ever try to get out of shape.”