DETROIT – The end game is obvious to Zach LaVine.
It’s now Year 3 since the Bulls front office assembled their version of the “Big Three’’ with LaVine, Nikola Vucevic, and DeMar DeRozan.
At this rate, there won’t be a Year 4.
Not with what’s been seen so far through the early part of this season.
“We understand that, we’ve been around long enough,’’ LaVine said after an embarrassing Saturday night loss to the Pistons dropped the Bulls to 1-2. “Shoot, Vooch has been traded, I’ve been traded, DeMar’s been traded. We understand the business. As much as we care for each other, you understand what’s on the other side of that. It’s just three games in, but we don’t want this to get past three games. We don’t want this to snowball.’’
So how does this group make it stop?
If the answer was easy, it would have been fixed already.
There was a time when the three did play with synergy, specifically the first year that they came together and made a brief playoff run. The difference between now and then? DeRozan thought the answer was obvious.
“First of all, you can’t really compare Year 1,’’ DeRozan said. “We had (injured point guard) Lonzo Ball, and he made a helluva big difference running the show.’’
That he did.
But Ball’s well-documented knee surgeries have sidelined him since the middle of the 2021-22 campaign, and he hasn’t been back since. There has been plenty of time for this core to move on and figure that out, yet they remain near the bottom in offensive efficiency, despite having a “Big Three’’ that should complement each other better than it does,
“As a collective we’re still looking to find that balance for us, for the team,’’ DeRozan said. “We’ve shown spurts here and there, but it hasn’t been as consistent as we want it to be.’’
That’s where Billy Donovan comes in. The coach has been trying to find the secret sauce to get the three to sync up on the floor, and that included tweaking the offense yet again this offseason. It looked good in moments in the preseason, but there’s a reason it’s preseason.
The offense bogged down in the blowout loss to Oklahoma City, needed DeRozan to play isolation hero ball to beat Toronto, and then whatever Saturday in Detroit was.
“One of the hardest things to do when you have three players like that, and coming together, there needs to be a unified vision, a shared vision of how you’ve got to play,’’ Donovan said. “Also, there’s a little bit of sacrifice that’s given up by everybody when you do that.’’
“I think they all understand that, and it’s not that they’re unwilling to sacrifice. Sometimes it’s just a little different for those guys and they’re trying to figure out their way.’’
All well and good, but what they no longer have on their side is time.
DeRozan will be a free agent next summer, and a source indicated that the talks about an extension that were taking place a few weeks ago are now on ice.
Meanwhile, Vucevic and LaVine are both trade candidates to go along with DeRozan. So while the season is young, the idea of this “Big Three’’ is getting old fast.
“Obviously we’re all frustrated that it’s not clicking the way it should be,’’ LaVine said. “Lonzo was a big part of it, and it looked really good when Lonzo was here. It’s not the situation we’re in. It’s time to put pen to paper. It’s our third year here together, we know how this business is. We all love each other. DeMar is one of my best friends, we talk all the time, but we have to figure out how to make this thing work.’’