Frustrated Zach LaVine after being benched in crunch time of Bulls' 4th straight loss: 'You play a guy like me down the stretch'


CHICAGO (670 The Score) – A new, concerning wrinkle of conflict has been added to a Bulls season that has started to spiral off course early on.

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After he shot 1-of-14 and sat for the final 3:43 of his team’s heartbreaking 108-107 loss to the Magic on Friday evening at the United Center, Bulls star guard Zach LaVine expressed frustration with coach Billy Donovan’s decision to bench him in crunch time.

“That’s Billy’s decision,” LaVine said. “He’s got to lay with it. Do I agree with it? No. I think I can go out there and still be me even if I missed some shots. That’s his decision, and he has to stand on it.”

LaVine’s benching wasn’t jarring based on merit, as he scored just four points on 7.1% shooting, was -19 in plus/minus and wasn’t a difference-maker in any other facet. It was stunning because LaVine signed a $215-million max contract this past offseason and is a prideful player who has been presented as the face of the franchise. Suddenly, an organization that has strived to be supremely player-friendly under lead executive Arturas Karnisovas has an irritated star on its hands – at least for a day.

How long LaVine’s frustration will last and whether it will have any lingering effects will be determined in the coming days. As of late Friday night, LaVine wasn’t sure if he’d approach Donovan to discuss the decision.

“It was Billy’s decision not to play me in the fourth quarter, down the stretch,” LaVine said. “It’s a tough decision. Obviously, I want to be out there, of course. It’s the reason I’m here, is to go out there and be Zach LaVine. But it’s coach’s decision. I can’t just go run out there and jump on the court even if I want to. It’s tough, but that’s why he’s the coach. He makes those decisions. Obviously, I’ve got to do a better job in the beginning of the game. I’ve got to make my shots. But you play a guy like me down the stretch. That’s what I do. Do I like the decision? No. Do I have to live with it? Yeah, and get ready to put my shoes on and play the next game.”

Guard Ayo Dosunmu subbed in for LaVine as the Bulls trailed 101-97 with 3:43 left, joining Nikola Vucevic, Javonte Green, DeMar DeRozan and Alex Caruso in the closing lineup. Donovan’s decision paid dividends, as the Bulls took a 107-103 lead on Green’s transition dunk with 26.5 seconds left, but the Magic stole a win when Jalen Suggs hit a game-winning 3-pointer with 5.0 seconds left after Vucevic missed a pair of free throws that could’ve sealed the game.

“He had a tough night shooting,” Donovan said of LaVine. “And I thought that group there, I thought that group really fought their way back into the game. Obviously, I played DeMar the whole second half. He seemed like he was fine physically. I came back to Zach, and it was one of those games where he just didn’t have a great game. Great players, it happens. He cares I think deeply about the team, but he wasn’t playing well. I just made a decision where I felt like that group had worked their way back into the game, and I wanted to give them the opportunity to close it, and certainly we had every opportunity to do it. He had a tough night tonight.”

Donovan was then asked about the symbolism of a max player being benched in crunch time and whether it could be a problem moving forward.

“I’m sure he’s really disappointed,” Donovan said. “He’s a really, really competitive guy. I love working with him every day. He’s about the team, but I also know how much he puts into it. I know how much it means to him and how much he cares about it. The ramifications of him not being out there, to me, I was trying to do what was best for our team in that moment.

“I feel like my job, my responsibility in those moments is to try to make the best decisions for the team. I thought that was the best decision at the time. To me, I don’t look at as anything else (other than) a one-off game where this is what was going on. I know he wanted to be out there.”

The Bulls dropped their fourth straight and fell to 6-10 with the loss. It doesn’t get any easier Monday, when they host the NBA-best Celtics (12-3) at the United Center, where LaVine will have an opportunity to bounce back.

“I’ve missed a lot of shots, man, but I’ve had a lot of games where I played terrible and in four or five minutes, I can get 15, 16 points,” LaVine said. “I just wasn’t able to shoot the next shot.”

Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.

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