It wouldn't truly have been a Bulls media day without injury updates, rehabilitation schedules and timetables for returns making up a significant portion of the conversation.
But as the Bulls enter the Fred Hoiberg era tomorrow with the commencement of training camp, the team's two biggest injury concerns appear headed in different directions.
The good news is Taj Gibson is recovering well from ankle surgery he underwent in June. Gibson, who revealed two weeks ago at his youth basketball camp that he played through a ligament tear in the playoffs, is ahead of schedule and still is aiming to be available on Oct. 27 when the Bulls begin their regular season against LeBron James and the Cavaliers. Gibson has dealt with multiple ankle sprains during his career - they cost him 20 games last season - and admitted at media day he'll be more cautious in his return this time around.
"It’s about getting back into game shape. I haven’t really been able to run for three months, so these last couple weeks have been really tough," Gibson said. "But it’s been a learning process, and I’m taking it slow."
Still, general manager Gar Forman said Gibson is ahead of schedule in his rehabilitaiton, which in mid-June was projected at four months. While he may not participate fully in two-a-day training camp sessions, Gibson has already been working out with teammates in Chicago and Forman expects him to be "very close or at 100 percent once the first game gets here."
"He's got a spring to his step," Forman said. "He looks live, he looks active, and we're really happy with where he's at.
The same necessarily can't be said for Mike Dunleavy, who underwent a lower-back microdiscectomy on Friday. Forman said Dunleavy began having "back issues" in the summer, and the team attempted to alleviate the pain with epidurals and physical therapy. When those failed to fully correct the issue a few weeks ago, the Bulls made the decision to have the 35-year-old small forward undergo surgery.
The team announced in a press release that he was expected to miss 8-to-10 weeks following the surgery. But the 35-year-old didn't sound as confident in keeping with that timeframe. He walked gingerly to the press conference table on Monday and admitted he's unsure of when he'll return.
"I think they released to (the media) eight to 10 weeks. I really don’t have a timeframe on it," he said. "I’m coming back when I feel good enough, the doctors have cleared me. I have no idea. Hopefully that will be this season. I’m not looking at it week-by-week. It’s going to be a process, I can’t skip the steps. Going to have to listen to what these guys say, follow through with all that. I’ll be back when I get back.
"I don’t have a set amount of time in my head that I want to get back. I haven’t broken out the schedule and said, 'OK, eight weeks from this Friday is this game, I want to be back for this game.' Just can’t do it that way."
Dunleavy said recurrence is a possibility if he rushes his rehabilitation, which initially will consist of zero basketball activity "for a while."
"It’s just all about being safe about it, taking the proper steps and hopefully being back sooner than later," he said. "To put an absolute date on it or if I’m not back in eight to 10 weeks is not going to be the end of the world."
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Dunleavy missed 19 games with an ankle injury last season after starting all 82 games in his first year with the Bulls. His absence will be significant, Hoiberg said, because of what Dunleavy provides from a team standpoint. Though he averaged just 9.4 points per game last year, the lowest mark since his rookie season, the Bulls were significantly better offensively with Dunleavy on the floor, and their defense also saw an uptick compared with him on the bench.
"We need Mike Dunleavy healthy at the end of the season, but when you look from an analytics standpoint, when Mike Dunleavy was on the floor good things happened," Hoiberg said. "And you look at the offensive efficiency, defense efficiency, those numbers, Mike was as good as anybody on our roster."
Hoiberg admitted Monday replacing Dunleavy will be done "by committee," naming reserves Tony Snell, Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic as players needing to step up and run with an extended opportunity for at least the first two months of the season. Hoiberg also added that reserve guards E'Twaun Moore and Kirk Hinrich may see increased roles, presumably with Jimmy Butler shifting to small forward.
"We’ll miss Mike a lot, but at the same time we’re going to be careful with it. And anytime something like this happens it’s a great opportunity for somebody else to step in and show what they can do," Hoiberg said. "So again, training camp’s going to be very competitive. When we step on that floor tomorrow for the first time I know those guys are going to be going at it and going after each other."