At the 3:43 mark of Friday night’s game, Bulls fans saw something they never expected to see.
In a one-possession game in front of home fans at the United Center, Billy Donovan benched his max player. Zach LaVine was replaced by Ayo Dosunmu for the remainder of the game, and the Bulls went on to lose 108-107 in gut-wrenching fashion to the Orlando Magic.
The two-time All-Star quickly had a chance to comment on his head coach’s decision after the game. And, shocker, he wasn’t a happy camper.
“That’s Billy’s decision, he’s got to lay with it,” LaVine told reporters. “Do I agree with it? No. I think I can go out there and still be me if I’m missing shots. But that’s he’s decision, and he has to stand on it.”
The last thing a team that has lost five in a row needs is drama between their franchise centerpiece and head coach. Yet … here we are.
To Donovan’s credit, LaVine truly looked like a liability throughout most of the game. He shot a dismal 1-14 from the field on his way to 4 points in what was easily one of the worst performances of his career.
Meanwhile, the lineup that Donovan chose to have on the floor was largely responsible for clawing the Bulls back from a 19-point deficit. So it’s hard to blame him for wanting to ride that group out during the game’s most pivotal stretch.
“I’m sure he’s really disappointed,” Donovan said. “He’s a really really competitive guy … The ramification of him not being out there, to me, I was trying to do what was best for our team in that moment.”
With that said, I also can’t blame LaVine for feeling slighted. He’s the highest-paid player on this team and one of the best pure scorers in the league. As he went on to put it: “You play a guy like me down the stretch. That’s what I do.”
As cocky as that may sound, he’s right. I would have had LaVine out there for those final possessions regardless of his current stat line. Not only is he more than capable of still knocking down a big shot or two, but he’d be another strong option to receive a late-game inbound and head to the free-throw line (where Vucevic missed two in a row to allow Jalen Suggs to hit the go-ahead 3).
I wish I didn’t have to sit here and pick sides, though. What I truly wish is that LaVine simply stuck to his comments about having to play better (which he did say, by the way) and this could have been handled internally. Instead, the drama is now out in the open, and I’ve already seen it start to catch steam over social media.
At the end of the day, this is how things get ugly for an organization, especially when you pile on just how poorly the entire team has played. The only hope now is that LaVine can use this as fuel and begin to push the Bulls back in the right direction.
Those hopes aren’t the highest right now, though …