BR Interview: Zach LaVine Talks Bulls Goals, Olympics, 'Call Your Shot' and More

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistOctober 19, 2021

Chicago Bulls' Zach LaVine heads down court during an NBA preseason basketball game against the Cleveland Cavaliers Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

Even a simple playoff appearance would be a massive step in the right direction for the Chicago Bulls, but Zach LaVine isn't interested in putting a ceiling on the team's potential. 

"If you're not confident going into every game and thinking you're going to win, I don't know what you're doing," he told Bleacher Report in an exclusive interview. "We're trying to build championship aspirations, and you have to approach it that way every day in practice. You shouldn't put a cap on how your season should go, you should go into every game and practice thinking about winning and championship habits. That's what we're going to establish."

It wasn't long ago "championship aspirations" were synonymous with the Bulls.

After all, this is the franchise that took home six titles in the 1990s with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen dominating the NBA. The Larry O'Brien Trophy was also a reasonable goal in the early 2010s when teams featuring Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Jimmy Butler and others were at least obstacles to the LeBron James-led Miami Heat.

While the Bulls haven't been to the postseason since the 2016-17 campaign, playoff expectations have returned to the Windy City.

The NBA's annual general manager survey named LaVine's squad the league's most improved team, and with good reason.

Few teams made as much noise this offseason as the Bulls, who landed Lonzo Ball in a sign-and-trade with the New Orleans Pelicans, signed Alex Caruso, acquired Derrick Jones Jr. from the Portland Trail Blazers and brought in DeMar DeRozan in a sign-and-trade with the San Antonio Spurs.

Throw in the dynamic one-two punch of LaVine and Nikola Vucevic, as well as more experience for young building blocks such as Patrick Williams and Coby White, and the playoffs should be the minimum goal.

"First is getting to know these guys," LaVine said when asked what he is most looking forward to about playing with his new teammates. "To build something special, you've gotta get to know your teammates and have all these different personalities mesh. We're getting into the gym here in Chicago a little early just to get that started. I'm extremely excited to work with these guys."

Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

It isn't difficult to envision that extra work turning into a memorable campaign.

DeRozan is a four-time All-Star who can take some of the offensive pressure off LaVine's shoulders. Ball is a facilitator who can put those wing scorers in the best position to succeed or take advantage of the extra space with his improved outside shooting after hitting a career-best 37.8 percent of his three-pointers last season.

And Caruso brings a championship pedigree as a defensive stopper who can anchor the secondary unit, guard the opponent's best perimeter player and shoot from deep when defenders collapse on the primary options.

Those additions made the most headlines, but the dynamic will be different for Vucevic as well.

He was thrown into the fire after a midseason trade sent him to Chicago last campaign, but he now has an entire offseason and training camp under his belt. The two-time All-Star will no longer be adjusting to a new environment and can focus on his multi-dimensional game that will surely include pick-and-rolls and pick-and-pops with LaVine and the other ball-handlers.

"It's going to be big," LaVine said when discussing an increased level of comfort with Vucevic in the lineup. "We traded for Vuc halfway through the season, so it's going to be a lot of fun being able to actually sit down and work out some of the wrinkles that we had last year. Now we've got one of the best passing point guards in Lonzo, we've got two dogs on the court that are go-to guys with me and DeRozan out there. Even the acquisition of AC, who is an extremely high IQ guy who has been at the highest level and won a championship. So having all these guys in the locker room for me personally and to be able to start off with a full season ahead of us is exciting."

While he is looking forward to the upcoming season on the court, LaVine partnered with CarMax off it as part of the Call Your Shot campaign from the official auto retailer of the NBA and WNBA.

The initiative is designed to give car shoppers more confidence by providing 24-hour test drives, 30-day money-back guarantees and the option to buy online with home delivery.

Photo Credit: CarMax

"It's great to be back working with them again," LaVine, who also joined the first Call Your Shot campaign in 2019, said. "I'm a car guy first, so being partners with CarMax is really authentic to me. And the new slogan and campaign, the way they're going about it empowering people with buying cars and having confidence in selling them is really cool. With me being a car guy and seeing how transparent it is, I think it's really cool."

LaVine now brings gold-medal credentials to the partnership.

Chicago's go-to scorer helped Team USA capture gold in Tokyo during his first Olympics experience. The Americans fought through some adversity that included struggles during the exhibitions in the leadup to the Games and a loss in their opener to France, but they eventually bounced back and defeated that same French team in the gold-medal game.

"It was incredible," LaVine said. "I think a lot of us were talking about how this is probably the best team that you'll play on with this caliber of player. Being able to have that experience and even getting close to the coaching staff and the guys was great. It built a bond. For me to be able to bring back some of those experiences and being around those high IQ coaches and players and learning from them is something I'll definitely be bringing back."

John Locher/Associated Press

After playing with and learning from the likes of Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard, Devin Booker, Jayson Tatum and others at the Olympics, LaVine figures to take another step and further cement himself as one of the league's best players in 2021-22.

He is just 26 years old, made his first All-Star Game last season while scoring a career-best 27.4 points per game and has proven to be far more than just the high-flying dunker he was early in his career with the ability to hit from deep, create plays off the bounce, rebound and facilitate.

Yet personal accolades are the furthest thing from his mind.

"Just how I can contribute to winning," he said when asked about individual goals. "Continue to go out there and help my team win and position us to be a successful team. That's what's most important to me. Individual accolades and self-fulfilling things come along with winning, and I've understood that over the past couple of years. You take care of business on that and everybody wins."

The path to that winning season starts Wednesday against the Detroit Pistons.