News dropped early Wednesday that Zach LaVine will play in tomorrow night’s game against the Charlotte Hornets. Then, the Bulls shared some more good news with the media in the afternoon, stating that Nikola Vucevic and Troy Brown Jr. are also trending in the right direction.
Vucevic has missed the team’s previous two games with an adductor strain. He reportedly received an MRI to double-check his status, and the results came back clean. According to head coach Billy Donovan, the big man practiced fully with the team today and “looked fine.” Meanwhile, Brown has sat out the Bulls’ previous eight games with an ankle injury after previously carving out a consistent role in the rotation. Whether or not he will return tomorrow seems a bit up in the air, but the update Donovan provided reporters on Wednesday is certainly the most positive we’ve heard thus far.
Nikola Vucevic (hip) practiced fully today, Billy Donovan says.#Bulls need to see how he responds and feels before deciding if he plays tomorrow.
Troy Brown Jr. (ankle) has done straight-line running. He's getting better, Donovan says.
— Cody Westerlund (@CodyWesterlund) May 5, 2021
So whether it’s on Thursday, Friday, or Sunday, I think it’s fair to say there is some optimism the Bulls will be back at full health this weekend. Is there optimism it will mean anything? Eh, not so much.
Chicago’s chances to make a legitimate run at the last remaining play-in spot are pretty much shot. The Washington Wizards sit 4.0 games ahead of them, and the Bulls remaining seven contests are against the Hornets, Celtics, Pistons, Nets (x2), Raptors, and Bucks. While there are few winnable games sandwiched in that bunch, the Bulls would still need the Wizards – winners of 13 of the last 16 games – to experience an epic collapse.
Considering the unlikelihood of a play-in berth, fans and media alike have turned to wonder whether or not it’s time to embrace the tank. After all, the Bulls will lose their first-round pick to the Orlando Magic if it doesn’t fall within the top-4. While the plan was never to be anywhere near those picks, the Bulls currently find themselves with a 31.9 percent chance to land in that range. Orlando is five games behind Chicago in the league-wide standings, so improving those odds would be a bit difficult, but maintaining shouldn’t be too hard. And with the play-in tournament out of the picture, why wouldn’t the Bulls try to do that?
It’s a good question, but it’s a question Zach LaVine will not answer. The All-Star made it clear to NBC Sports Chicago’s K.C. Johnson today that he’s had zero conversations with the coaching staff or front office about receiving some extra rest over the remaining seven games. Likewise, if the Bulls are ready to throw LaVine, Vucevic, and Brown into the rotation, then they must not be very focused on their lottery odds either.
Zach LaVine, on if he and team had any talks about shutting it down with play-in deficit so large and 7 games left: "I’m not that type of guy. Obviously, if that conversation comes up, it won’t be coming from me."
— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) May 5, 2021
Of course, there is always the possibility the in-game decision-making plays itself out differently. Donovan might limit some of his star’s minutes and prioritize the use of younger talent. We will not know until we see it. However, the team’s decision and commentary thus far suggest that it will continue to be business as usual to finish up the year. Some might not love that approach, but I think it’s fine.
Again, there is still a good chance the Bulls’ top-4 odds don’t change drastically over the next seven games. I also think there is value in giving LaVine and Vucevic as much time to mesh as possible. The two should have the opportunity to work together over the offseason, but nothing helps two guys grow better than a truly competitive environment. Thanks to LaVine’s stint in the Health and Safety protocols, the two only had 10 games to work with each other, and LaVine played on a bad ankle in several of those games. Hopefully, both guys can now just stay on the floor over these final seven games and continue to show flashes of being the dynamic duo we hope this front office can build around this offseason. I’ll take that.