During an In-Season Tournament game against the Celtics, Chicago Bulls star Zach LaVine exited prematurely, seeming to have worsened a foot injury from a few games earlier. After initially being reported out for one week, Bulls PR eventually reported that he would miss an additional 3-4 weeks with right foot inflammation. Despite losing their second-leading scorer, the Bulls have gone 4-0 without LaVine in the lineup. How does Zach LaVine’s continued absence affect the rest of the Bulls’ season?
How Zach LaVine’s Absence Impacts Chicago’s Season
Before losing LaVine, Chicago had just come off a five-game losing streak. The Bulls have posted a bottom-10 net rating in the league this season. In the four games since losing LaVine, Chicago has surprisingly turned things up a notch.
Chicago is riding four straight wins, including one over the juggernaut Milwaukee Bucks. In those wins, the Bulls have played a more fluid and unselfish brand of basketball, averaging season-highs in team assists.
Before his injury, LaVine was averaging 21 points, 3.4 assists, and 4.9 rebounds. His three-point efficiency was comparatively low at 33.6%–he has traditionally been a near-40% shooter from behind the arc. His slow start led to much speculation about if the Bulls wanted to keep LaVine around or trade him.
Analyzing the LaVine-less Bulls
Bulls insider K.C. Johnson reported that executive VP Artūras Karnišovas is not rushing any trades but rather using Zach LaVine’s absence to analyze his team without the star scorer. LaVine’s extended absence gives Karnišovas a chance to see whether this team needs a full rebuild or just a retooling.
One of the brightest spots of this mostly-dark Bulls season has been the emergence of Coby White. White has been averaging a career-high 15.6 points while also shooting a career-high 41.7% three-point percentage. In four games without LaVine, White has averaged 24.3 points, including a 31-point performance against the New Orleans Pelicans. In his four seasons with Chicago, White has struggled to find consistent minutes in the crowded backcourt featuring LaVine, Alex Caruso, and Lonzo Ball. Now, without two of those starting-level guards, White is fulfilling what Chicago hoped he could be when they drafted him.
Coby White last 4 games:
24 PTS | 6 AST | 5 3P
19 PTS | 9 REB | 5 AST
31 PTS | 9 REB | 6 AST
23 PTS | 7 AST | 4 3P
— StatMuse (@statmuse) December 9, 2023
Despite being a talented scorer, LaVine’s absence has resulted in more offense being created by the Bulls. In the four wins post-LaVine injury, Chicago scored 120, 124, 111, and 121 points. Each of these games surpassed their season average of 108.4 points per game.
Four 20-point scorers in tonight’s win 👏 pic.twitter.com/Jlk2RYvBOG
— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) December 9, 2023
The Market for LaVine–or Lack thereof
Whether completely fair or unfair, the market for LaVine has plummeted in the past season and a half. His disinterested style of play and poor defense this season already made him look more undesirable as a trade piece. That combined with this foot injury may make things difficult for Chicago to find willing suitors for the former All-Star.
Potential trade partners for LaVine may now have more leverage against the Bulls. Why give up much of anything significant for an injury-prone player who has played half-heartedly all season?
LaVine’s low trade value may mean that Chicago has to work to retool rather than try to receive significant rebuilding assets. The Bulls’ recent success gives Chicago’s front office hope that perhaps trading LaVine for some dependable role players could put them closer to the middle of the pack competitively.
The Last Word: Have We Seen the Last of LaVine as a Bull?
Chicago moving on from LaVine seems like something that has been inevitable for the past two seasons. All the rumored discontentment, on-and-off court drama, and uninspired play has come to a head. The Bulls must now take this opportunity to explore the market for LaVine and maximize the promising potential of the rest of their players.
The best-case scenario for the Bulls would be a desperation heave by a contending team looking to add a star scorer and willing to give up valuable picks or role players. Whether they get that or not, it’s seeming more and more likely that we have seen the last of Zach LaVine as a Chicago Bull.