Zach LaVine has not only missed the first game of this season, but is now listed as OUT for the Bulls next contest in Washington on Thursday.
It was a truly bizarre and surprising turn of events, as there was no indication during training camp and preseason that anything was wrong with the knee that LaVine had surgery on in May after limping through the second half of last season.
In fact it was quite the opposite, LaVine said he was feeling great, plus there was a 10 day rest period from when he last played to opening night:
“Not having any aches and pains and being able to play without any limitations in my own mind is huge,” LaVine said following Friday’s practice at the Advocate Center. “Like, ‘OK, I can’t go left. Or I might not be able to dunk this play.’ You’re not supposed to be thinking that way when you’re playing basketball. And I was dealing with that a lot last year. I’m just happy I feel better.”
The initial PR used the term “left knee management”, which is not really a thing: it’s neither ‘load management’ (rest) or a left knee injury. Here was Julia Poe of the Tribune’s take on that verbiage:
Might seem like semantics but to me there feels like a serious distinction between injury management (which is what Zach is requiring right now) and load management. He’s not sitting to avoid getting tired, there is a specific issue.
When the man himself talked to the media, and was asked how plausibly he could play in preseason, say he feels good, then have to be ‘managed’ and have that not mean an injury.
LaVine didn’t say there were any subsequent issues after those games.
“I never said I felt a flare up,” LaVine reiterated. “I think it’s just something we’re going to have to manage going forward.
Later, before the game, Billy Donovan confirmed that was a lie:
“There was a lot of very, very physically demanding practices, to be quite honest with you, coming out of the Milwaukee game,” Donovan told reporters, referencing the Bulls’ preseason finale against the Bucks, which LaVine sat out. “And I think after a few of those, he felt some discomfort.”
Why not say this right away?
Perhaps Zach doesn’t want to be labeled as injury prone, but you got the full-boat max contract, who cares man?!?! Or maybe it’s all part of ‘new media’, which I’ve read is very empowering to athletes, and we all can expect soon a mini-documentary narrated by Shams and produced by Klutch Sports + Stadium about Zach’s recovery.
From the Bulls perspective, why wouldn’t they want to proactively communicate that they and Zach are on some kind of management plan heading into the season?
Unless this from Donovan is the team scrambling to cover up what is objectively an injury setback:
“We knew going into the year that we were going to have to basically manage him as it relates to what was best for his health. We fully expected that there would be flare-ups, discomfort, whatever word you want to use,” Donovan said. “But there was gonna be these situations where we were gonna have to make these decisions where, ‘He has to sit tonight.’ I think we all felt like that was part of it going into the season.”
If this was the plan (c’mon, it wasn’t), it’s not a very thorough one:
Neither Billy or Zach have been able to provide a target timeline for when he'll be back to full health without needing nights off for injury management.— Julia Poe (@byjuliapoe) October 19, 2022
Altogether, the communication part may be a mess, but that matters less than how Zach can perform. He was pretty underwhelming in the preseason and did not do much in terms of basketball activities in the offseason following his surgery in May. It’s undoubtedly frustrating for fans, and even more frustrating for him: this was expected to be a routine ramp-up, and he has very close evidence of a worst-case scenario when seeing how surgery rehab has been going for Lonzo Ball.
There’s also the possibility of the Bulls applying gamesmanship here, which is lame as hell in its insignificance, but I suppose “letting fans know what’s going on” is even less significant.
So I doubt we’ll see any schedule for Zach’s games played or minutes in those games, and thus we are left to speculate:
#Bulls have 4 back-to-back sets in the first 19 days of their regular season.— Cody Westerlund (@CodyWesterlund) October 20, 2022
So even if Zach LaVine's left knee starts feeling good/normal soon, he could miss 5 of their first 12 games.
After their back-to-back on Nov. 6-7, Bulls don't have another one until Dec. 10-11.
And we could use this as a guide: