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Ex-Timberwolves favorite LaVine set for Chicago debut

Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine (8) warms up before a Dec. 4 game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at United Center. (Kamil Krzaczynski / USA TODAY Sports)

CHICAGO — He's back.

Zach LaVine, one of the most beloved Timberwolves during his time in Minnesota, will make his Bulls debut Saturday, Jan. 13, against Detroit, marking the end of an 11-month rehab process after tearing the ACL in his left knee against, coincidentally, Detroit.

A lot has happened since that February night. LaVine has switched locations and jerseys, traded from Minnesota to Chicago as part of the Jimmy Butler draft night trade. The high-flying sharpshooter also appears to have gotten bigger and stronger, which should strike fear into the hearts of opponents. Jamal Crawford, a friend of LaVine's, said the guard has "definitely started putting on more muscle and more weight."

"He's grown, like we've all grown," Andrew Wiggins said. "Gotten bigger, stronger, and every year every player gets better, so he's going to come out there and look good."

Ask any of LaVine's former teammates or coaches back in Minnesota and they'll share a similar sentiment: They're happy for him to be back. Karl-Anthony Towns, Crawford and Wiggins all keep in frequent contact with LaVine. Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said he has received texts from the former Wolves guard during his recovery.

"I'm happy for him," Thibodeau said. "He's a great guy. He's a terrific player, and anytime you go through the length of rehab like that, it's not easy. I think he's handled that very well."

Which is no surprise to those who are close to him.

"Anyone who knows Zach knows he's an extremely hard worker, and he itches to play the game of basketball," Towns said. "So I know I've been having to tell him through texts to take his time and make sure he comes back when he's ready. I knew it was a matter of time before he was going to call himself ready to go."

That's why Crawford is so happy for LaVine. He knows the work that goes into ACL rehabs, and he knows how much LaVine loves to play. Crawford said LaVine, like him a Seattle native, is "in that mold" of the "ballers" who eat, sleep and breath the game, much like Crawford said.

"There's never been a time when Zach's like, 'I can't hoop,' or, 'I don't want to hoop,' " Crawford said. "A lot of guys from our area are kind of built like that, and he's definitely one of them."

Crawford noted he saw LaVine this summer at a gym and noticed the guard didn't have an NBA regulation ball.

"I'm like, Zach ... what are you doing?" Crawford said. "He's like, I didn't have one, and I didn't want to bother nobody."

So Crawford threw him one and told him to keep it.

"He's such a kid," Crawford said, "and in a good way."

Crawford said it's been driving LaVine "nuts" to not play but noted LaVine has maintained a good attitude. But, yeah, LaVine is ready to get back on the court Saturday.

"He can't wait," Crawford said. "He said he was ready two months ago, so I know he's excited."

Asked for a prediction for LaVine's Chicago debut, Wiggins simply said, "30."

That's a lot of points for a guy who will likely be brought back slowly with a minutes restriction, but Wiggins seems confident in what LaVine will do.

"He's been ready to come back for a long time," Wiggins said. "He worked hard to come back to get to this point. I know he's going to go out there and kill it."

Wolves hold Black History Month contest

The Timberwolves and Lynx are hosting a contest for kids in grades 6-12 to write an essay "on a leader in American black history that inspires them to be a leader today," in accordance with Black History Month in February.

Finalists for the contest will advance to the final round, where they'll need to submit a video essay that will be evaluated by Crawford and Lynx forward Rebekkah Brunson. Crawford said he's very encouraged by the level of awareness youths have for social issues and equality, despite what they may be hearing and seeing from people in high places, such as the Oval Office.

"Some of the stuff they're seeing, to me, it's not real life. It's not how it's supposed to be," Crawford said. "So they're still getting it and cutting through and navigating through everything and still have the human decency to be like, 'You know what, that's not right, and this is how I feel, and I'm expressing it in a way I think people can relate,' it's good."