Media Day Bulls Basketball

Zach LaVine could be one of top players for the Bulls down the road.

Charles Rex Arbogast, Associated Press

CHICAGO — Michael Jordan, Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler.

And now Zach LaVine.

There's a new sheriff in town.

The Bulls have made the 22-year-old guard their future, much like the Bears with Mitch Trubisky.

LaVine was thrilled with his new address during Monday's media day, despite leaving an up-and-coming franchise (Minnesota) for one that's in a total rebuild.

But first, he's got to get healthy.

LaVine is still recovering from ACL surgery last February, from which doctors say the normal recovery time is nine months. That would delay his return to the court until early November at the latest.

The Bulls open Oct. 19 at Toronto.

"I'm very far along in the progress right now, doing things I'm very happy about," LaVine said. "I've put a lot of work into this. I can't stand just sitting here."

LaVine had predicted he'd be ready for the season opener, but has since curbed his enthusiasm.

That's just being smart.

"I want everybody to know I feel good. If they allow me, I'm gonna push it as much as I can," he said.

Bulls' fans watched nervously as knee injuries ended Rose's promising career in Chicago. And now comes LaVine, the new go-to guy, with a repaired knee.

"With the technology today and how much work you put in ... my vertical leap is higher than the pre-draft measurement, my three-quarters sprint is faster than what it was and my standing vertical is higher off two feet," LaVine reported.

"I was surprised a couple of times. Oh, wow."

The fourth NBA player to ever win consecutive Slam Dunk Contests, the 6-foot-5 high-flyer insists his all-around game will remain exciting as ever.

Yes, there were be dunking. And lots of it.

"I have no fear of going through a lane because I once got hurt," LaVine said. "I'm fine. I'm gonna come back better than before.

"There may be more of that (dunking)."

He won't need a permission slip from John Paxson, the team's vice-president of basketball operations.

"We're not going to rush Zach back," Paxson said. "But we're also going to listen. When (doctors) say he's ready to play or to practice, we're going to allow him to do that.

"When guys come back from an extended time out, especially coming off surgery, and when they get the OK, they need to get in basketball condition. And that doesn't happen overnight."

Coach Gregg Popovich's San Antonio Spurs are taking the same approach with superstar Kawhi Leonard, who'll miss the preseason because of right quadriceps tendinopathy.

The young Bulls aren't going anywhere, so what's the hurry? LaVine is the franchise; that hook to snare other big-name free agents down the road.

Paxson and general manager Gar Forman have until Oct. 16 to sign LaVine to a long-term extension or he becomes a restricted free agent next summer.

It will get done in time, fear not.

The Bulls didn't trade Jimmy Butler to not re-sign LaVine.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at al.hamnik@nwi.com.

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