It’s been the Zach LaVine mantra for a few weeks now.
The Bulls guard sounded like he had come to the end of handing out excuses at some point in March. Or simply had run out of excuses to give.
“We’ve done enough talking,” LaVine said several times, as his team was preparing for its first playoff appearance since 2017. “It’s time to get it done now. Time to stop talking.”
Because while LaVine has never played in a postseason series, he’s been around long enough to know that words mean very little in the NBA’s “second season.” It’s claw and scratch for four wins, and then move on to the next series. If not? It’s call the travel agent and plan a vacation.
There’s no middle ground. Players living on moral victories in April and May are usually doing so on the backend of a banana boat in Turks and Caicos.
So while the Bulls players have spent the week saying all the right things about the first round meeting with the defending champions, it’s time for actions, not words.
The current make-up of this roster may depend on that.
Las Vegas has the Bulls going out against the Bucks. Heck, most prognosticators have the Bulls fearing the deer the next few weeks.
But there’s a bigger picture that’s at stake.
Executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas and general manager Marc Eversley didn’t build this roster for mediocrity. Even if the Bulls go out in the first round, how they look in doing so may carry weight as far as offseason decisions that have to be made by the front office.
What if this group – without Lonzo Ball (left knee) – upsets Milwaukee or even takes them to the brink with a Game 7? What if the series goes six hard-fought games, and the Bucks go on to repeat as champions?
Then the idea of calling “next” with the same players and running it back with a healthy Ball next season makes a bit more sense.
Some definite tweaks needed, but there’s a core intact that Karnisovas and Eversley can embrace, as well as sell to the fan base.
Then there’s the other side of what can happen.
What if this is a four-game sweep? Or what if the Bulls do grab one win at home, but are still hammered in the four other games and sent packing?
Considering this roster went 2-21 against opponents that finished the season with a winning percentage of .600 or higher, slipped from first at the All-Star Break to No. 6 in the East by the end, and then on top of all that are a punchline in the playoffs, there’s no sell-job Karnisovas can throw the way of the fans and not come off sounding like the Gar/Pax regime.
A crash ending to this season would mean everything and everyone would have to be on the table.
As it stands the Bulls have just over $100 million in guaranteed salary for next year. That does not include the big pay raise LaVine will be due in free agency.
With the supermax all but out the window, LaVine will be looking for the max – from either the Bulls or elsewhere.
With the Bulls it would be five years and $200 million, and elsewhere it would be four years and near the $160 million mark.
Do the Bulls do that knowing this roster fizzled out when it mattered most?
Then there’s Nikola Vucevic and his expiring contract after the 2022-23 season. Is he a moveable piece this summer? And don’t forget that Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu could each be extension possibilities.
So yes, this is just a first-round playoff series, but it could be much more for the outlook of this core.
Enough words, though. Actions will speak much louder.