NBA

'My heart was in Chicago' – Zach LaVine welcomes new Bulls deal and eyes NBA championship

By Sports Desk July 12, 2022

Zach LaVine is targeting an NBA championship with the Chicago Bulls after the All-Star guard sealed his five-year contract extension with the team.

Not since the Michael Jordan-led glory years of the 1990s have the Bulls reigned above the rest in the NBA.

Their six championships in that decade account for all the NBA titles that the Bulls have won, and there have been lean times since then.

They halted a run of four seasons without a playoffs appearance by making it to the postseason in 2021-22, only to fall in the first round to the Milwaukee Bucks.

LaVine has agreed to a five-season, $215.2million maximum extension, and the former Minnesota Timberwolves man has high hopes for what may lie ahead.

He said: "Individually, I'm wanting to keep pushing myself to reach higher and higher things. If it isn't All-NBAs, if it isn't MVPs, team-wise, it's win a championship.

"I think there's nothing above that. You've heard me say individual things come with winning, and the better and better we get as a team, and I keep pushing myself to get better as a player, those things can match up."

 

Acquired from Minnesota in 2017 as part of a draft-day trade that sent six-time All-Star Jimmy Butler to the Timberwolves, LaVine has emerged as one of the NBA's most consistent scorers during his time in Chicago.

The 27-year-old joined the legendary Jordan as the only players in franchise history to average 23 or more points per game in four consecutive seasons after averaging 24.4 per game in 2021-22.

LaVine also shot 38.9 per cent from three-point range and 85.3 per cent from the free-throw line this past season to earn his second straight All-Star nod and help the Bulls reach the playoffs for the first time since 2016-17.

The Bulls are retaining a core that also includes 2021-22 All-Star DeMar DeRozan, center Nikola Vucevic and playmaking point guard Lonzo Ball. That group led Chicago to a 46-36 finish last season, their most victories since 2014-15, and a sixth seed in the Eastern Conference.

Speaking about his max contract, LaVine said: "There's no extra added pressure. It's just who I am, and what goals and what things I want to reach, and how much better can we get as a team."

He added: "Chicago is my home. We've built something over the last two, three [years]. Being able to come back as a cornerstone piece and allowing them to get some of my insights, some of my input in constructing the roster to help me and help us win, was really big for me."

LaVine said there was "no other reason for me to go outside and look at any other teams", suggesting that would have been "disrespectful on my end because they gave me everything that I asked for".

He said he still gave plenty of thought to what he wanted.

"But my heart was in Chicago," LaVine said.

After undergoing knee surgery in May, LaVine is optimistic he will be in prime shape for next season.

"I feel way better. I've been rehabbing, working out, playing, lifting, doing all the good stuff and boring stuff, too," he said. "I feel really good, and over the next two months, getting back into the season, I feel like I'm gonna be even better."

Related items

  • Timberwolves looking to 'maintain edge' at top of West after All-Star break Timberwolves looking to 'maintain edge' at top of West after All-Star break

    The Minnesota Timberwolves are top of the Western Conference but know they will have to "maintain that edge" as they return to action following the NBA All-Star break.

    Minnesota have not been beyond the first round of the playoffs in 20 years, yet they are in position to earn the number one seed through 55 games, boasting a 39-16 record and a 1.5-game lead over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

    The All-Star break has been a busy one for the T-Wolves, with Chris Finch coaching the West outfit, which included Anthony Edwards and team-mate Karl Anthony Towns, who scored 50 points.

    The team have also agreed a two-year contract extension with guard Mike Conley Jr., according to reports. He had been set for free agency at the end of the season.

    Finch is now hoping he will find a focused team in Minnesota as they seek to build on a superb start to the year.

    "We've just got to try to pick up where we left off," he said. "We know the intensity in these games are going to ramp up more and more.

    "We've got to make sure that we maintain that edge. We've done a good job of developing a good offensive rhythm in the past few weeks, so we've got to maintain that.

    "Hold serve at home; we've got a lot of home games coming up here out of the break. There's lots of things we can do to keep furthering ourselves."

    There was an unfamiliar feeling for Finch in the All-Star Game, seeing his team handily beaten by the East in an encounter that drew criticism for its lack of competitive play.

    The format may no longer be widely popular, but Finch certainly enjoyed the rare opportunity to coach players like LeBron James and Stephen Curry.

    "Looking around the locker room, there's probably 12 first-ballot Hall of Famers in there," he said. "It's something I'll remember forever."

    The Timberwolves return against the Milwaukee Bucks at Target Center on Friday.

  • Nets fire head coach Vaughn Nets fire head coach Vaughn

    The Brooklyn Nets fired head coach Jacque Vaugn on Monday, five days after the team suffered a 50-point loss to the Boston Celtics in its final game before the All-Star break.

    Brooklyn is 21-33 and in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, but the club is only 2.5 games behind the Atlanta Hawks for a spot in the Play-In Tournament.

    The Nets said “an interim head coach will be named in the near future.”

    “This was an incredibly difficult decision, but one we feel is in the best interest of the team going forward,” Nets general manager Sean Marks said in a statement.

    Vaughn was promoted to head coach early last season following the dismissal of Steve Nash after Brooklyn opened with five losses in seven games.

    The Nets immediately started playing better, which led to a contract extension for Vaughn last February.

    The Nets posted a 43-32 record under Vaughn last season as they claimed the No. 6 seed in the East before getting swept by the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the playoffs.

    Brooklyn got off to a 13-10 start this season but went on to drop 23 of 31 games heading into break, punctuated by the second-worst loss in franchise history on Wednesday.

    Vaughn owns a 129-226 coaching record with the Orlando Magic and Brooklyn.

  • Damian Lillard honoured to match Michael Jordan feat in All-Star Game Damian Lillard honoured to match Michael Jordan feat in All-Star Game

    Damian Lillard was honoured to achieve a feat only previously accomplished by Michael Jordan on the NBA's All-Star weekend. 

    Lillard saw off competition from the Minnesota Timberwolves' Karl-Anthony Towns and the Atlanta Hawks' Trae Young to win the 3-point contest on Saturday, then he dazzled again one day later.

    The Milwaukee Bucks guard was named All-Star Game MVP after putting up 39 points as the Eastern Conference All-Stars recorded a 211-186 win over their Western Conference counterparts. 

    Chicago Bulls legend Jordan is the only previous player to complete such a double, having taken the 1988 dunk contest before winning the first of his three All-Star MVP trophies.

    For Lillard, who was appearing in his eighth All-Star Game but his first as a starter, following in Jordan's footsteps made it all the more memorable. 

    "Anytime you're mentioned in the same category as Mike, it's an honour, it's a major accomplishment, even if it's All-Star weekend," Lillard said during his post-game news conference. 

    "Because if it was that simple, more people would have done it. I'm a vet in the game at this point. Why not go and try to get an MVP? I've been here enough."

    However, a perceived lack of competitiveness in Sunday's All-Star Game – the highest-scoring in history – led to criticism from some quarters. 

    The league's all-time leading scorer LeBron James said the All-Star Game "is something we need to figure out", with players unwilling to risk injury in the mid-season exhibition. 

    Asked for his views on that debate, Lillard said: "I think it could be more competitive, 200 is a lot to be scored. It shows we didn't go out there and compete like I guess you would want us to. 

    "But I think that's just what it is. Guys are talented, they make a lot of shots. We hit a lot of 3s, and that was it."

    Lillard joined the Bucks in a blockbuster trader from the Portland Trail Blazers ahead of the season, but his first campaign in Milwaukee has been a turbulent one. 

    The Bucks fired coach Adrian Griffin last month, bringing in Doc Rivers after a short interim stint for Joe Prunty. They sit third in the Eastern Conference with a 35-21 record, but have lost five of their last seven games.

    "It's been a tough year with the transition to a new team, we've had three coaches since I've been there," Lillard said.

    "Anytime you have these types of experiences where you have adversity, that's the time you've got to show who you really are. 

    "Keep doing what you do, keep believing, and when you do that, usually it comes back to you. You just can't fold."

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.