The confusion set in on Tuesday when word broke that Zach LaVine was questionable for the team’s season opener. Panic set in less than 24 hours later when he was officially ruled out due to “left knee injury management.”
The Chicago Bulls and LaVine had given zero indication that he would be at risk of missing games to start the season. If anything, the news after LaVine’s offseason surgery was nothing but positive. Yet, here we are: LaVine is on the bench and the Bulls are giving mixed messages about where his health currently stands. After a summer where the front office doubled down on this roster despite significant improvements in the Eastern Conference, that’s extremely unsettling.
Head coach Billy Donovan had his first opportunity to speak about the shocking injury destination before Wednesday night’s game. While he provided at least some context to the situation, I’d be lying if I said it feels like he cleared anything up.
I’ll drop the full quote (courtesy of NBC Sports Chicago) below:
“This has probably been, since at least I’ve been with him, the most unique summer in relation to playing five-on-five. He did not play any five-on-five basically. Most of his summer was getting his knee stronger, rehabbing, trying to get his physical fitness up. But he eliminated some five-on-five. So, when training camp started, we basically, I think he sat out of the Milwaukee game. I think very similar to what he told you, he was feeling great.
We have to ramp him up, and there were a lot of very very physically demanding practices, to be quite honest with you, coming out of the Milwaukee game. And I think, after a few of those, he felt discomfort. So, obviously, we did not have a real good idea of where he was at physically because we didn’t see a lot of five-on-five this summer. It was really more just strengthening, rehabilitation, getting back from the surgery. So this is not, to me, anything that is unexpected. He’s going to experience at times, whatever word you want to use, soreness, discomfort. We’ve got 11 games in seven days. He’s going to play a part in that and, you know, how do we get him back feeling good again?”
So … yeah … that was a lot.
I don’t necessarily want to say it was a lot of nothing, but it certainly wasn’t a lot of something. If had to read between the lines, the knee wasn’t as ready for full basketball activity as both sides thought. With that being the case, participating in the preseason games and training camp to the extent that LaVine did was likely a mistake. Now, they have to be extra careful about putting too much early-season stress on the knee as it regains full strength.
If we’re being honest, though, that is probably the best-case-scenario. There is another world where something is still somewhat seriously wrong with LaVine’s knee … but I don’t want to go down that path right now. I’m just going to hope that this is a minor bump in the road when it comes to LaVine’s season-long availability.