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Bulls hopeful injured LaVine can return to the lineup on Friday

Zach LaVine Chicago Bulls Zach LaVine - The Canadian Press

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine could return to the lineup as early as Friday's game against Charlotte if there are no setbacks in his recovery from a sore right foot.

LaVine has not played since Nov. 28 and is testing out his foot this week in a rehab stint with the G League’s Windy City Bulls. A two-time All-Star, LaVine averaged 21 points in 18 games this season. The Bulls entered Tuesday's game in Philadelphia with a 10-5 record this season without LaVine — they were just 15-19 overall.

Bulls coach Billy Donovan said Tuesday he was encouraged by LaVine's health reports following two days of practice with Windy City. LaVine was scheduled to practice at least one more time this week with the G League team.

“The part that we're most concerned about is when he started having to do all that cutting, how he responded,” Donovan said. “He responded well. So now we've gotten through that and now he's ramping up. I just don't know from the medical staff how many days they want to see him because he's been out (17) games. What do they feel is an adequate enough time for him to get his legs back under him? Do they feel that he's got at least enough physical contact that they would feel comfortable with him going back into playing?”

The 28-year-old LaVine signed a five-year, $215.16 million extension after the 2021-22 season, largely considered one of the worst max deals in recent NBA history. He's been the subject of recent trade rumors and Bulls executive Arturas Karnisovas could look to move LaVine in a package deal before the Feb. 8 trade deadline. Chicago's recent run of success without him could embolden Karnisovas to shop LaVine.

“I think he sees how we're playing, what we're doing, and the thing he'd want to do is come in and contribute and enhance that and make it better,” Donovan said of LaVine. “It's been very, very positive, our conversations. I think he wants to help the group as much as he can. I don't think it's necessarily so much that he has to change his game. It's what he does really, really, really well. Can he bring that to the table for us?”

Through only 18 games, LaVine's 44% shooting percentage was his lowest since 2017-18, when he played just 24 games because of injuries. He was also shooting a career-worst 34% from 3-point range.

“I don't think he was finishing at the level he has throughout his career; shooting it at the level he was throughout his career,” Donovan said. “I think he takes great pride in those things. I think as hard as he works, and all these guys work, when they don't see the ball go into the basket, for a lot of them it's disappointing or it's frustrating. I think there's no question before the injury happened, I think if you look at his numbers compared to what he has been doing, there was certainly a difference there.”