Zach LaVine faces questions — and heavy expectations — in his Chicago Bulls return: ‘I could care less what people think about me’

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Zach LaVine is back. And after nearly six weeks off the court, the star guard returns to the court to face a litany of questions surrounding his future with the Chicago Bulls.

LaVine will play his first game in 38 days Friday against the Charlotte Hornets, making a return from a right foot injury. The Bulls went 10-7 in his absence, somewhat balancing out the dismal 5-14 start that plunged their season into doubt within the opening weeks.

But after a morning shootaround at the Advocate Center, LaVine didn’t want to talk about records or questions surrounding his status.

“My main objective is to come out here and just get back to playing,” LaVine said. “If I let opinions affect me, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today. I could care less what people think about me. I know who I am and what I do. I know what I gotta go out there and do is help provide for the team and help us win so that’s all I’ve been trying to focus on.”

LaVine will come off the bench Friday along with center Nikola Vučević, who will also make a return after missing the past five games with a groin injury. Both players will be under a minutes restriction for at least their first two games back. LaVine said he will be limited to 25 to 30 minutes Friday.

For LaVine, Friday’s game will be the first opportunity to attempt to mold into an improved style of play that bolstered the team’s positive record during the 17 games he missed.

“We caught a great rhythm in December doing the same thing that we were working on in training camp,” LaVine said. “It was great to see it actually start coming in and clicking.”

The difference has been marked for the Bulls. The offense is moving the ball quickly, spreading shooting evenly and making shots behind the offensive breakout performance of Coby White. The defense is slowly molding itself back into the top-10 form of last season.

But despite the timing of the team’s improvement, LaVine doesn’t feel he needs to change anything about his approach to effectively meld into the current style of play.

“I want to come in and do my job like I was doing before,” LaVine said. “That’s help the team any way possible, if it’s scoring, energy, rebounding. Come in and compete. I’m just excited to go out there and be with my guys again.”

LaVine isn’t the type of player to feign ignorance about the conversations being held around him in the media or in the fan base. He knows his first 19 games of the season were viewed poorly. He knows there are reports that there isn’t any market for him to be traded away from Chicago. And he knows the team’s 10-7 correction in his absence has been a catalyst for a pointed question: are the Bulls better without him?

But LaVine also refused to engage with those questions Friday past acknowledging their existence. He did not address whether he is still interested in a trade, something he has never confirmed but also has not denied. Instead, he stuck to the same mantra: if he performs up to standard on the court, the questions will quickly answer themselves.

“There’s a narrative for everything,” LaVine said. “You can spin something one way, then take it another way the next day. I’m OK with that. As long as I come out here and do my job and be good with my guys, my teammates, and now that I’m healthy go out there and compete when I’ve been sitting down for the last month and a half — I’m more than fine with that.”


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