LaVine joins starting lineup with his Bulls debut on Saturday
The 11-month rehab came to an official close Monday in a meeting with the Bulls' doctors and trainers. Zach LaVine couldn't wait for it to end.
"First thing they said was, 'Congratulations you're cleared,' " LaVine said Friday. "I said, 'good meeting you' and pretended to walk out of the room. It was funny."
Being cleared to play after recovering from a torn ACL in his left knee was all LaVine needed to hear. But he did stick around to discuss the pros and cons of starting vs. coming off the bench.
A winner has been declared. LaVine confirmed he'll be in the starting lineup when he makes his Bulls debut against the Detroit Pistons on Saturday at the United Center.
"Part of it is when Zach gets warmed up to get him right out there as opposed to sitting on the bench and having to think and cool down," coach Fred Hoiberg said "To get him out there right away is important.
"We've had conversations with all the guys it is going to affect with the rotation and minutes, and everyone has taken it great. The bottom line is all of our guys are excited about getting Zach back."
LaVine last played in a game last year on Feb. 3 when he was with Minnesota. Coincidentally, he injured his knee in a game against the Pistons. LaVine was averaging 18.9 points at the time of the injury.
The first affected by LaVine's return will be Denzel Valentine. Hoiberg said Valentine will go to the bench with Justin Holiday at small forward.
The lineup decision is not surprising, although Valentine has been playing well, averaging 13.6 points and shooting 50 percent from 3-point range in the past five games. Holiday is at 16.4 points and 48.5 percent from long range in the last five.
"(Holiday) has been one of our more consistent players," Hoiberg said. "He gives us good length as a defender, he's got the athleticism to guard multiple positions. Denzel still is going to have a big role on this team, as is David Nwaba, but it will affect everybody's minutes in a certain way."
LaVine will play 20 minutes per game in the early days of his return. He's likely to be on the court for the first five minutes of each half, then Hoiberg will select another five-minute segment in the second and fourth quarters.
But the biggest benefit for the Bulls is getting their backcourt of the future together. Kris Dunn has been better than expected after a disappointing rookie season in Minnesota. Hoiberg's dream of a high-scoring, fast-paced offense could hit a new level with LaVine joining Dunn and Lauri Markkanen, who had a career-high 33 points in New York on Wednesday. After starting out 3-20, the Bulls have gone 12-7 since Dec. 8.
"I'm just anxious," LaVine said. "Ready to get back to playing again. You wait all this time, do all this rehab. it doesn't simulate actual games.
"It's like riding a bike. You might wobble a bit, but I can get back going straight and going faster."
LaVine said he has felt good for several weeks and has taken plenty of hits in practice. He understands why the Bulls were cautious with his return date and he spent the extended practice time trying to become a more complete player.
"I've been shooting the ball really well, (but) I haven't just been trying to score the ball every time," he said. "In the D-League practices, I work on something different every day. If it's I'm trying to be the best defender I can or best facilitator, best shooter, best scorer -- whatever it was, I tried to work on something different."
Bulls game dayBulls vs. Detroit Pistons at the United Center, 7 p.m. Saturday
Radio: WLS 890-AM
Outlook: This is the first meeting between these Central Division rivals this season. The Pistons (22-18) snapped a five-game road losing streak with a 34-point win at Brooklyn on Wednesday. SF Tobias Harris has emerged as Detroit's top scorer with 18.5 ppg, followed by ex-Boston SG Avery Bradley at 15.4 ppg. C Andre Drummond leads the NBA at 15.0 rebounds per game and is shooting a career-high 62 percent at the foul line. PG Reggie Jackson is out with a severely sprained ankle and not expected back until February. Ish Smith has been starting at point guard. Since 2006-07, the Pistons are 3-19 at the United Center
Next: Miami Heat at the United Center, 2:30 p.m. Monday
-- Mike McGraw