Executive vice president John Paxson said it last April. Bulls President and COO Michael Reinsdorf said it last week.
The Bulls aren’t prioritizing draft lottery positioning this season.
So with Zach LaVine participating in his second straight contact practice Thursday, and Otto Porter Jr. back after missing Wednesday’s practice with a bruised left knee, both starters are probable for tonight’s game at the Clippers.
“We’re building something positive here,” coach Jim Boylen said. “We need everybody on the floor we can to keep playing together and have a feel for each other. We’re playing, man.
“I’m worried about our transition defense. I’m worried about our toughness. I’m worried about our competitiveness in game when a team makes three or four 3-pointers in a row and we kind of get down on ourselves. We want to fix those things. We want to grow and learn in those moments the best we can. That’s what this is about.”
The Hawks’ win over the Grizzlies on Wednesday pushed them five games ahead of the Bulls, who have the fourth-worst record in the NBA. The Bulls began Thursday 1½ games better than the Cavaliers, who have the third-worst mark.
“I’m thankful that ownership and management don’t want to prioritize draft lottery positioning,” Boylen said. “But I just want to preface that so we understand: If somebody is hurt or needs to sit out, they will sit out. If somebody is in jeopardy of a long-term issue, we are going to do the right thing.”
And LaVine, who sat the last two games with a right patellar tendon strain, said he wants to play.
“This is basketball,” he said. “It’s my favorite thing to do. What else would I be doing right now? If I can play, I’m going to play. I don’t think there’s any reason for me to sit out if I can play. That’s just not who I am. That’s not what I do. It’s going to be good for the team. We can get our chemistry down, continue to play well, build things for next year. I’m not somebody that’s going to sit out. If I’m hurt, there’s no reason to try to risk anything. But if I’m not, I’m going to play.”
LaVine played just 71 games the last two seasons after tearing his left ACL in February 2017 while with the Timberwolves.
“I’ve already missed enough games, I feel like, for my career,” LaVine said. “I missed a whole year-and-a-half because of that. It made me really miss the game of basketball. That’s what I love to do, even in the summertime. I play basketball. I work out because that’s just who I am. So I like being on the floor. I just don’t like missing games.”
LaVine has career-best averages of 23.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 3.4 turnovers. He’s also shooting a career-best 46.8 percent.
While his decision-making has improved, his turnovers must come down and his defense must improve for him to take the next step toward stardom. But with 44 20-point and 10 30-point games, he has become a consistent go-to scorer.
“I feel like that’s supposed to be one of my main roles, is to lead a team,” LaVine said. “Every game, you can stamp my work card for you know what you’re going to get from Zach LaVine each and every night. You might get a little extra. But bare minimum, you’re going to see what I get every night.”
The three worst teams carry identical 14 percent odds to win the May 14 NBA draft lottery. The fourth-worst team owns a 12.5 percent chance to win the top pick. The bigger difference is the third-worst team only has a 7 percent chance to fall to the seventh pick, while the fourth-worst team has an 18.9 percent chance to draft seventh or eighth.