Chicago Bulls star Zach LaVine is set to return to action Friday night against the Hornets after missing more than a month with a foot injury. LaVine, the subject of trade rumors through the first two months of the season, has not played since Nov. 28 due to a foot injury that the team has been officially calling “right foot inflammation.” LaVine is set to come off the bench Friday night and be on a minutes restriction in his first game back.
“Everything that’s been thrown at him in terms of the way he’s progressed, he’s handled really, really well,” Chicago coach Billy Donovan said earlier this week.
This has been a frustrating season for LaVine, who was off to a rough start before getting hurt. In his first 18 games he was averaging 21 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game, while shooting 44.3% from the field and 33.6% from 3-point land. All of his scoring and assist numbers are the lowest they’ve been since his first season with the Bulls back in 2018.
From a talent perspective, LaVine’s return is a boost for the Bulls, but working him back into the mix will require a delicate touch from Donovan. After a dreary 5-14 start, the Bulls went 10-7 with LaVine sidelined. Coby White has taken off in his absence and so has the offense, which is moving a bit quicker and features more ball movement as of late. Overall, the Bulls’ offensive rating has jumped from 108.9 (26th in the league) with LaVine to 115.1 (19th) without him.
“I obviously talk to him in the building pretty regularly,” Donovan said. “I think he has always been … whatever he can do to help the team has kind of been his mentality. I think the one thing that’s always a little bit different when you talk to players that have been out, it’s like you talk to them and it’s a totally different perspective when you’re sitting out looking at it from a non-competitive standpoint. When you’re not in the game and you can see the game. I think he sees how we’re playing, what we’re doing, and I think that the thing that he’d want to do is come in and contribute and enhance that and make it better.
“To me, [our discussions have] been very, very positive. I think he wants to help the group as much as he can. I think I’ve said this before, I don’t think it’s necessarily so much that he has to change his game. It’s what he does really, really well, can he bring that to the table for us?”
The Bulls are 15-21 on the season following the loss to the Knicks on Wednesday and sit in 11th place in the Eastern Conference.