Learning to win consistently is LaVine's next challenge
When summer arrived, Zach LaVine returned to the vast outdoor workout compound built by his dad near the family's home in Seattle.
After running through sand and honing his ninja skills in the Washington wilderness, LaVine should be ready for the new NBA season. But will he be ready to finally become a winner?
That's the main question facing the Chicago Bulls' leading scorer. His offensive numbers were pretty much at an all-star level last season, so he doesn't need much improvement there. The issue now is his teams have never won more than 31 games during his five professional seasons.
For the Bulls' rebuild to show progress, all the young players need to figure out how to win consistently.
LaVine is their best player, so it starts with him.
"The hardest thing in any sport is learning how to win," he said after Thursday's practice at the Advocate Center. "If it was easy, everybody would be a championship team."
The Bulls certainly aren't loaded with veterans, but they made one important addition in signing free agent Thaddeus Young. The 6-foot-8 forward has made the playoffs eight times in his 12 NBA seasons.
"Thad does definitely bring some veteran leadership. He's a natural born leader," LaVine said. "Even Otto (Porter) was in the playoffs and on a winning team when he got traded here. So you can always seek dudes like that for advice, but we've got to learn how to win as a group.
"I don't think one or two players can just help that because they came from winning cultures. We've got to do it collectively."
LaVine also mentioned new assistant coach Chris Fleming as someone who can help. Fleming spent last season with the Brooklyn Nets, a team that defied expectations with a 14-win improvement and playoff berth.
"We want to do something like they did," LaVine said. "We're a team that's slept on, not a lot of people are expecting a lot of big things out of us, but we want to go out there and make a splash and be a playoff team."
Bulls head coach Jim Boylen has a plan in mind for how LaVine can accomplish the playoff goal. Last season LaVine posted career highs with 23.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 6 free-throw attempts per game.
"What we've talked about is his edge to begin games," Boylen said. "He's got to try to get a layup, either running or getting to the rim, on his first couple of possessions. Get himself going and just play with that edge, that athleticism that he has. Start the game angry. Start the game ready to prove, not just kind of feel your way into a game.
"He's been great. He's been so coachable. When he plays with an edge and he gets downhill and he attacks, I think he's as good as anybody in the league."
LaVine would love to make his first all-star appearance next February in Chicago. But he knows the Bulls' win total will hold more weight than his scoring average.
"I just feel like it's a whole new mentality," he said. "I just feel like we're really hungry."
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