Chicago Bulls: How LaVine and Mirotic returns will affect team

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

Things could get far more intriguing for the Chicago Bulls as Zach LaVine and Nikola Mirotic near their returns to the court.

Though it won’t happen today, both Zach LaVine and Nikola Mirotic are getting closer to returning to action for the Chicago Bulls.

Reports surfaced today that LaVine and Mirotic, while not traveling with the team for tonight’s against the Phoenix Suns, will practice with the Windy City Bulls in the short term.

In particular, Mirotic is scheduled to travel with the team for Thursday’s game against the Denver Nuggets. Whether he plays or not is up for grabs.

While the Bulls have eased LaVine back into action as he recovers from his ACL injury, they’ve played it cautiously with Mirotic following the practice fight with Bobby Portis that landed him in the hospital with facial fractures.

But now that both are nearing a return, how can we expect their presence to change the dynamic of the Chicago Bulls?

What Mirotic’s return means

Yesterday marked the first time Mirotic has practiced with the team since that October 17 incident. Before that, he had been getting work in on his own, sometimes lurking conspicuously in the background as the team practiced.

And no, he’s not talking to Portis yet. Don’t expect that to change. Their relationship is probably permanently damaged, and one can only guess how any potential on-court interaction between them might look.

But he couldn’t stay away forever. At some point, once he got healthy, he had to play.

For one thing, NBA labor rules demand that he play if healthy, so that was unavoidable.

Also, if Mirotic wants to skip town, he needs to show what he can do on the court in hopes of stoking interest in another team by mid-January, the earliest point at which a trade could happen.

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Given the “Me or Portis” ultimatum Mirotic issued the Bulls, my guess is that they’ll eventually look to move on from one of them sometime in January or February. My money would be on Mirotic.

In the meantime, I don’t see Mirotic being more than a bench guy upon his return given Lauri Markannen’s strong showing as a starter thus far. Personally, I think that Markannen is already a better player, and the gap between them will only widen as he gains comfort.

Furthermore, with Portis providing solid minutes off the bench right now (12.8 points, 44.9% FG, 35.3% 3pt), I don’t think Mirotic will immediately come in and have a huge role. Portis will likely continue getting a sizable share of minutes with the second unit with Mirotic possibly working into the rotation when Portis isn’t on the floor.

That said, the Bulls probably need to find 15-20 minutes a game for him relatively soon if they hope to be rid of him in a few months.

What LaVine’s return will mean

Now, THIS is what Chicago Bulls fans have been waiting for since June: the comeback of Zach LaVine.

Lord knows the Bulls’ league-worst offense could absolutely use a man with 20-points-per-game capabilities.

Truthfully, when he returns, he might already jump right in and be the Bulls’ best player. Not that that’s saying a bunch, but one can’t deny that it would help.

His athleticism, ability to create his own shot reliably and improving range from deep should help half-court spacing and transition offense. Imagine him and Kris Dunn getting out and running the way they used to in Minnesota.

Plus, while the Bulls remain cautious with him, it sure looks like the kid has his bounce back.

If nothing else, watching him throw down a few highlight dunks will get Bulls fans on their feet amid this tough season.

And as he continues to get his legs back, I expect that his presence, alongside Markannen, will at least make this an intriguing team again.

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For myself, I’d expect him to come off the bench when he returns just to let him play without pressure right away. But after a few games of that, I bet LaVine jumps quickly into the starting lineup next to Dunn, with Justin Holiday sliding to the 3 spot.

And once he gets going, this season might suddenly feel a lot less boring.