LaVine to finally make debut with Bulls
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CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bulls have spent all season pointing toward the return of Zach LaVine and what his presence in the lineup could mean to a team that has struggled in the early stages of its rebuilding effort.
The wait is finally over.
LaVine, who was acquired in the offseason in a trade that sent Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves, has been out all season while recovering from ACL surgery last winter. The guard will make his Bulls debut Saturday when Chicago hosts the Detroit Pistons.
LaVine will be inserted into the starting lineup, but will be limited to only 20 minutes per game for at least a week as the Bulls easy him back into game competition.
"(It's been) 11 months, (so) you have doubts and little things like, 'Will I be able to do this again?' or 'I won't be the same,'" LaVine told reporters Friday. "Then the next day you're better at it, or better at something else. I tried to stay even-keeled and steady through the process, (and) I feel like that's what got me through it."
The Bulls (15-27) snapped a two-game losing streak Wednesday with a 122-119 double overtime victory over the New York Knicks. LaVine's return will move Denzel Valentine to the bench, which continues to be sparked by Nikola Mirotic.
Mirotic will play Saturday against Detroit after missing Chicago's past two games with a stomach illness. With LaVine back and inserted into the starting lineup alongside Kris Dunn, Mirotic remains at the center of possible trade considerations.
But for the time being, the focus will remain on LaVine, who Friday declared himself 100 percent. Coach Fred Hoiberg agrees.
"To get him out there right away is important -- that's going to be his role as a starter," Hoiberg told reporters Friday. "I had conversations with all the guys (about how) it is going to affect the rotation and minutes, and everyone has taken it great. The bottom line is all of our guys are excited about getting Zach back in the lineup."
The Pistons (22-18) have lost three of their last five games, but are coming off a 114-80 victory over Brooklyn on Wednesday.
Detroit is one of the teams reportedly interested in Mirotic's services. The Pistons have played without starting point guard Reggie Jackson, who has been out since Dec. 26 and who will remain out until at least mid-February with a severely sprained right ankle.
Forward Jon Leuer (ankle sprain) has been out since October and might need surgery.
According to the Detroit Free Press, Jackson has taken "a good step" in his recovery, which has sidelined him with a significant injury for the second straight season. But like the Bulls' LaVine, Jackson realizes at this point, he must remain patient.
The Pistons are 3-4 without Jackson, who appeared Friday without crutches, but still in a walking boot.
"All I can do is control what I can control," Jackson told the Free Press. "Unfortunately, I'm not on the court, but life doesn't stop. There are other things that bring joy to my day. I still live life. I still talk to my teammates. I'm still cheering them on. They're playing well.
"I'm going to do everything I can to get back on the court and when the time's ready, I feel healthy and God's willing, I'll be back on the court."
Updated January 13, 2018