Playing in meaningful Chicago Bulls games is LaVine's primary goal
Spring is a great time for optimism in the NBA. Most of the Chicago Bulls are expressing confidence they can be a playoff contender next season, but it will be a long climb from the current 22 wins.
For Zach LaVine, the off-season will be a quest to play meaningful games. During five NBA seasons, the best team LaVine played for was the 31-51 Minnesota Timberwolves in 2016-17.
"I haven't played in a meaningful game in five years of my career," LaVine said Saturday at the United Center. "It's not fun to go home in April, and I think we're in the right direction moving forward, but we have to make some changes individually and as a team to get to that point."
LaVine might be the most important piece for the Bulls, pending results of the May 14 draft lottery. He took a step toward becoming a go-to scorer with all-star potential this season by averaging 23.7 points, 4.5 assists, 4.7 rebounds and shooting 46.7 percent from the field.
All of those numbers are career highs.
The Bulls seem fairly set at four spots in their starting lineup. LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. all are under contract for at least the next two seasons. The biggest needs for the off-season are to add bench strength, figure out a plan at point guard and conjure up some lottery luck.
LaVine was headed into restricted free agency last summer and landed a four-year deal worth $78 million. He said the motivation is just as strong to improve this summer.
"I think I had a really good year, but there's a lot of things I could've done a lot better as well going into next season," LaVine said. "I always try to improve not just in little aspects but across the board.
"I'm going to take this just as serious if not more serious as last year. I think if you can improve yourself first, it's going to help the team."
LaVine mentioned improving his defense and cutting down on turnovers as items on his to-do list, along with becoming more consistent.
"I'm going to go back and watch a lot of the things I did well," he said. "In the pick-and-roll especially, I was really good with scoring and facilitating. But I can cut down on some of the turnovers where I was trying to make some tough passes.
"You have to look at yourself in the mirror and try to improve the faults you had. I think I had a really good year this year, but there are a lot of things I think I could have done much better as well. I think if you can improve yourself first that will help the team."
The Bulls are down to two games left in the regular season. LaVine (quad, knee), Porter (shoulder) and Kris Dunn (back) haven't been officially ruled out, but it would be a surprise if any of them play.
The remaining games likely will be two more chances for guys such as JaKarr Sampson and Walt Lemon Jr. to make a bid to stay in the NBA.
Sampson has produced 23.0 points and 8.0 rebounds in three games since being signed from the Windy City Bulls, including a career-high 29 points Saturday against Philadelphia. Lemon has had two good games and two rough ones.