Zach LaVine focused on moving forward after being benched in final minutes of a 1-point Chicago Bulls loss: ‘I’m going to get back to being Zach’

Two days after sitting for the final minutes of a loss to the Orlando Magic, Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine wants to stop talking about being benched.

“It’s one game, man,” LaVine said after practice Sunday at the Advocate Center. “I don’t want to get this blown out of proportion.”

Despite that insistence, it was clear that frustration still lingered for LaVine after he was benched in the final minutes of Friday’s last-minute loss to the Magic at the United Center after shooting 1-for-14 on the night.

LaVine said he spoke with coach Billy Donovan about the decision, expressing his desire to finish games even when he’s experiencing an off-shooting night.

“Obviously I’m a competitive guy, I want to play,” LaVine said. “I just told him I feel like I’ve earned the right to go out there and try to play through a bad game. His decision was to try to do the best thing for the team, which I respect. If we won, obviously I would’ve been ecstatic. We lost, I wasn’t. I had a terrible game. … But I’m one of the best players on the court regardless of who’s playing and I think I should be on the court in crunchtime. That’s just the mentality I have.”

Donovan said he didn’t regret the decision, which swapped out the Bulls’ $215 million maximum contract All-Star for second-year guard Ayo Dosunmu. The substitution appeared to pay off for the Bulls, who took a brief four-point lead before a pair of missed Nikola Vučević free-throw attempts allowed Magic guard Jalen Suggs to sink a last-gasp 3-pointer to win the game.

LaVine said he would have been “fine” with going 1-for-20 to finish the game as long as he had the opportunity to attempt to contribute. At the least, the guard said he wished he could have been on the court to take free throws. But Donovan defended the choice, saying he needed to play the group that had led the team’s comeback from a 19-point deficit.

“The decisions I’m making, I’m going off my gut and off my eyes,” Donovan said. “I know that’s not 100% foolproof. There are going to be times I’m going to look back and say, ‘That wasn’t a very good decision. I probably needed to do something else.’ … I do think there’s a standard of play. If the scoring isn’t there for whatever reason, we’ve got to have a group standard.”

Despite disagreeing openly and in one-on-one conversations about the game, LaVine said he didn’t harbor any long-term frustration against Donovan for the decision.

The pair have worked together since Donovan was hired as coach in 2020. Both emphasized their strong relationship and ability to communicate openly as keys to moving on quickly from the conflict.

“We talk all the time,” LaVine said. “We’re grown men. It’s a grown man’s business. There’s going to be uncomfortable days. Just like in any sport or any business, you’re not going to agree on every decision made. So you talk about it, you move on from it and you understand where the other side is coming from.”

The last time a coach benched LaVine, his response was immediate — and astounding.

Former Bulls coach Jim Boylen put LaVine on the bench for nearly five minutes of a 2019 loss to the Miami Heat in an outright display of dissatisfaction with the guard. One night later, LaVine scored 49 points against the Charlotte Hornets, shooting 13-for-17 from 3-point range and sinking a fadeaway shot from behind the arc to win the game.

LaVine would love to respond similarly to Donovan’s decision — especially against the Boston Celtics on Monday night, the last home game for the Bulls before a six-game road stretch. But statement games have been harder to achieve for LaVine as he continues to recover from offseason surgery on his left knee.

LaVine’s scoring is down nearly four points per game as he shoots at a 41.5% clip compared with 47.6% last season. One month into the season, LaVine said his signature bounce still feels hit-or-miss. On some plays, he springs above the rim with a flourish. At other times, he can’t elevate enough to make simple finishes.

“I’m at where I’m at right now,” LaVine said. “It’s frustrating but I’m going to get back to being Zach and get my lift and everything. Regardless, I can still be effective compared to what I’ve been doing out there, especially the last game.”