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Zach LaVine: Healthy Bulls 'Automatically' a Playoff Team Next Season

Megan ArmstrongContributor IIIApril 6, 2019

Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine (8) in the second half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019, in Denver. The Nuggets won 135-105. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
David Zalubowski/Associated Press

The Chicago Bulls are the fourth-worst team in the NBA, but guard Zach LaVine is confident his squad will find itself toward the top of the league as soon as next season. 

When asked if a healthy Bulls would make next year's postseason, LaVine told the Chicago Tribune's K.C. Johnson, "Yeah, automatically."

It's no secret Chicago's in the midst of a rebuild. This season has produced a dim outlook on the near future, as the team fired head coach Fred Hoiberg on Dec. 3 after a 5-19 start. Jim Boylen took over, and his head coaching tenure got off to a rocky start. 

A little under a week into Boylen's tenure, the Bulls lost 133-77 to the Boston Celtics, and the coach scheduled a practice after back-to-back games—violating NBA protocol. Vincent Goodwill and Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports reported on the team's dysfunction at the time: 

"Calling for a Sunday practice was apparently the last straw. Late Saturday evening one of the team's veterans, sources said, initiated a group text relaying that if any player showed up to the facility on Sunday prepared to practice, he would fine them personally, and the players agreed. 

"A player contacted Boylen to alert him of the team's decision, but the coach refused to relent, sources said. [...]

"Boylen has had numerous verbal confrontations with players since the first week of the season, sources said, with the executive vice president John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman being present for many of them. Boylen was Hoiberg's 'bad cop.'"

As a result, a leadership committee formed to attempt to forge a truce between Boylen and his players. In the months since, things seemed to have calmed. However, injuries have been rampant. 

LaVine missed five games in December because of an ankle sprain and has been out since March 20 with a patellar tendon strain in his knee, which was diagnosed March 12. The 24-year-old has led the Bulls with 23.7 points per game across 63 contests.

On Friday, Johnson detailed the importance of the 2019 NBA draft lottery in the Bulls' rebuild: 

"May 14 represents the next big story for this franchise, particularly because [rookie center Wendell Carter Jr.] fellow first-round pick Chandler Hutchison, former lottery pick Denzel Valentine, trade-deadline acquisition Otto Porter Jr. and all three acquisitions from the Jimmy Butler trade—LaVine, Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen—have been out for several games, weeks or the season."

With the Bulls already clinching the fourth-worst record, they hold a 12.5 percent chance at the No. 1 overall pick and a 48.1 percent chance at a top-four selection. 

Whomever the Bulls add in this year's draft will play a major role in bringing LaVine's assertion to fruition. The Bulls last made the postseason in 2016-17.

Chicago sits at 22-57 entering Saturday night's game against the Philadelphia 76ers.

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