Zach LaVine ‘a little bit ahead of schedule’ in injury recover as he prepares for his Bulls return next season

LOS ANGELES — Zach LaVine expressed optimism for his future with the Chicago Bulls as he rejoined the bench for Saturday’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers.

LaVine wore a walking boot as he reunited for the day with teammates for the first time since undergoing surgery to address a right foot injury on Feb. 9.

LaVine defined the injury as a nonunion Jones fracture, which refers to a type of fracture at the base of the fifth metatarsal in which part of the fracture was refusing to heal to the rest of the bone. The injury required surgery to make a full repair. Any conversation about undergoing the procedure was a question of “when” not “if” — and with his pain level high, LaVine opted to shut down his season early and begin the recovery process.

“It sucked, man,” LaVine said. “I was pretty much trying to figure out every way not to — you never want to have surgery. But I got to the conclusion, especially with what the doctor was telling me was, ‘Your pain level and this thing isn’t going to heal on its own.’ ”

LaVine said he is “a little bit ahead of schedule” in his recovery and expects the boot to be removed soon, at which point he will be cleared to begin light exercises. And he plans to be back with the Bulls to begin preseason with a goal of being available on opening day of next season.

“I’ll be pretty much ready to go way before then,” LaVine said. ”

LaVine will remain in Los Angeles for the immediate future for a different priority — the birth of his second child. His wife, Hunter, is expecting in the coming weeks.

Despite being based in Los Angeles for both surgery and recovery, LaVine said he speaks with his teammates every day and took pride in the team’s turnaround to claw closer to a winning record — they entered Saturday’s game with a chance to get to .500 for the first time since they were 2-2 but lost, 112-102, falling to 31-33.

The February decision to undergo surgery doused the monthsold flames of discourse that surrounded the $215 million maximum-contract star for most of this season.

The foot injury began to flare up almost immediately after LaVine reportedly requested a trade out of Chicago in November, stirring up questions and controversy over the timing of his injury and his intentions with the Bulls.

The Bulls went 10-15 in games with LaVine this season. And their redemptive turnaround from a 5-14 start did not begin until LaVine was first sidelined by the injury at the end of November. The timing of this improvement drew an immediate question from fans: Are the Bulls better without LaVine?

But LaVine brushed off this concept — and any implication that he wasn’t a match for the Bulls as they creep closer to a .500 record.

“It’s not hard to fit back in, especially with the way I play the game,” LaVine said. “I want to go out there and help. You never want to be hurt but it’s not hard to see yourself back out there.”

LaVine will have to wait until the 2024-25 season to prove himself again.