Jimmy Butler is gone. Enter: Zach LaVine. A blockbuster deal involving the two highly-touted players was executed between the Chicago Bulls and Minnesota Timberwolves this past offseason, in a move that — at least from Chicago’s perspective — was bound to happen one way or another. For the Timberwolves, this season has gone well for the most part — they are in the thick of the playoff mix. For the Bulls, however, the season hasn’t truly even started yet — well, at least for LaVine.
After suffering a torn ACL in February of 2017, LaVine has been out of competitive basketball for almost a year now. The guy whom the Bulls seem to be counting on to be a centerpiece for years to come has yet to lace up on the court. But, another guy, more of an unsung type of player, has stepped up in his place on the wing.
Justin Holiday is a career journeyman. The 6’6” 28 year-old swingman has played for five NBA teams as well as spending time in the G-League, Belgium and Hungary. Before this season, he had yet to find his footing within a franchise. However, after getting a shot with the Bulls, he has absolutely made the most of it and is not taking any of it for granted.
Holiday has nearly doubled his career average of 7.7 points per game this season, putting up 13.8 this year. Over his last ten games, he’s averaged over 46 percent from the field and has only attempted around 10 shots per game during that stretch. Early on, he put up 16 per night. Holiday knows his patience is paying off now that the team has seemed to find a rhythm.
“The start of the year I was shooting a lot of shots,” Holiday told the Bulls’ official website. “Now we have Niko (Mirotic) back, Kris (Dunn) back. So a lot of shots are going around, too. I just think about how it’s going down and I think I’m passing the ball more; teams are on me, so I’m looking for other people.”
Knowing there is always the temptation of taking more shots and wanting to be “the guy,” Holiday responds to that with a rare humility.
“There are times I can think about taking more shots, but I just have to come and play the game and play as hard as I can. When I have looks, I’m going to (shoot),” he said. “It’s what everyone on this floor wants to do. But I still understand the role I am in. I can’t come around here and pout and stuff if it isn’t happening for me.
“I have to carry myself a certain way regardless of how things go. I have to be an example. Just because I’m not getting a lot of shots (or minutes), I can’t be upset about that. You can’t come in and pout and let guys see you. Things aren’t always going to go your way. I still have a lot of positive going for me,” said Holiday.
In somewhat of a new role with the Bulls, Holiday understands he needs to be there to help his teammates out and be the veteran leader in the locker room and on the court.
“It is something I had to learn,” Holiday said. “Usually, I would just worry about myself, lock in on that and what I have to do. Now I have to understand I am kind of being looked at and to carry myself a certain way. How can you help the team? What can you do to help?
“There are ups and downs in life like in basketball. Being positive is always the best way. If you’re not, you can take yourself out because of that. Character goes a long way regardless of whether this basketball thing works out or not. How you carry yourself matters a lot.”
Holiday has surely learned much during his basketball career, and his humility and maturity are paying dividends for the Bulls who have won 11 of their last 16 games after starting the season with an abysmal record of 3-20. With as much momentum as the Bulls have in a weak conference, there’s even more hope coming soon with the return of LaVine.
“Ideally, I wish I could play tomorrow,” LaVine said. “In a perfect world, I could play right now. But it’s not a perfect world. I’m just gonna wait and see, see how my body feels, go through these meetings and we’re gonna find a date soon.”
Asked about his patience at this point, LaVine admits that it is nearing its end.
“It’s almost ran out,” he said. “I’m still there listening to everybody, but I feel ready. I’m antsy. I’m going through five, six straight days of practice. Full on, full blast. I’m close. I don’t know if I have 100 percent my legs back, but I can definitely go out there and get buckets.
“I’m in every film session, on the bench every night. In the locker room, talking to dudes. I’m still part of the team helping in any way I can. Giving my thoughts and opinions on the game. Just try to stay involved as much as possible. At first I didn’t want to look at basketball when I got hurt,” he admitted, “but now I’m back in the full swing of things.”
LaVine was asked about how he felt about practices lately.
“I don’t have any fear whatsoever. I’m gonna play the same way. Mentally, I’m perfectly fine. I’m better than I was before. I knew what I went through and came out a better basketball player. You never know until you step out there. I haven’t played in 10, 11 months. Timing, rhythm has to come into play. But I’ve worked so hard so it wouldn’t be a hard transition. I wouldn’t say I’m angry or annoyed. It’s just getting to a point where you wanna do what you love. It’s like being held away from your kids or something. That’s my feeling for basketball. I wanna go out there and play the game I love.”
Chicago may not be in any position to speak about a championship anytime soon, but they do have a couple of pieces coming into their own, not just on the court, but as men and as leaders. Fans can, for now, at least be thankful with such rare humility and integrity found in two of their key players.