Bulls: Gibson, Dunleavy give different outlooks on injury front


Bulls: Gibson, Dunleavy give different outlooks on injury front

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.

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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."

Bulls are unlocking something with Zach LaVine: 'He was terrific'

Bulls are unlocking something with Zach LaVine: 'He was terrific'

MINNEAPOLIS—The applause was thunderous on the welcome back for Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine, two Timberwolves draft picks sent away when the chance to acquire Jimmy Butler came along.

But some of the air was taken out the Target Center due to the absence of Jimmy Butler, who’ll miss the next several weeks after deciding to have surgery on his right meniscus following an injury Friday night.

So while there was no rematch of the thrilling contest the two teams had in Chicago, some things were very much the same.

Lauri Markkanen’s struggles continued.

LaVine showed more flashes of his complete game and Dunn had a couple moments of his own.

And on the other side, Tom Thibodeau kept his starters in the game with victory secured and his team up 20 points in the Timberwolves’ 122-104 win over the Bulls Saturday night.

The Timberwolves broke the game open in the fourth quarter with some key shot-making from veteran Jamal Crawford, as he was one point short of the Timberwolves having four 20-point scorers on the night.

Jeff Teague, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins combined for 70 points in their first game of many without Butler.

LaVine was a main reason the Bulls stayed afloat in the first 36 minutes, finishing with 21 points, seven assists and six rebounds in his first game back in front of the Minneapolis crowd he spent his first few years playing for.

Going head-up with his former teammate Wiggins for a stretch, the two seemed to relish their practice matchups. Wiggins was doing a lot of pure scoring while LaVine seemed to enjoy probing the defense and making plays for teammates, taking more of a ballhandling role as opposed to floating around the perimeter for 3-point attempts.

“He’s doing a much better job not settling for tough shots,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s attacking the basket much better than he was. You can just see him getting his legs, getting more comfortable. It was good to see him as a playmaker, he was terrific.”

Perhaps the Bulls are unlocking something with LaVine, getting him the ball in different places and on the move, where he made some nifty passes in traffic, exercising patience and maturity.

“I liked it. Hopefully we get a little bit more of it,” LaVine said. “But it’s working. Should’ve stuck to it.”

They didn’t, as the Bulls didn’t look as organized as they have previously. Dunn looked extremely motivated and aggressive but it seemed to work against him at times as Teague took advantage of Dunn being too quick for his own good. So hyped up, Dunn blew a breakaway dunk in the first half, but luckily Nwaba was right behind him for a putback.

That type of energy was expected for Dunn and LaVine, maybe even moreso for Dunn considering his underwhelming rookie year where he didn’t get much chance to play as a top-five pick.

Dunn finished with 10 points on four of 12 shooting while Cameron Payne scored 11  in 19 minutes, but the decision making from both point guards left plenty to be desired—which is to be expected given the lack of veterans on the floor.

Their starting unit again struggled as Justin Holiday and Robin Lopez again sat as the evaluation of the younger players continued.

Cristiano Felicio had a better outing than his foul-plagued game against Philadelphia, scoring 11 points but had his hands full on the other end. David Nwaba impressed for the second straight game as a starter, getting in the open floor to force the action, scoring 14 with nine rebounds in 34 minutes.

“The second quarter, I thought, was one of our better quarters of the year,” Hoiberg said. “As bad as we played in the first quarter, I thought we were down 20. We just didn’t sustain it. Against a great team like that, it’s gonna cost you.”

Nwaba, along with Bobby Portis, was a big reason why the Timberwolves couldn’t run away from the Bulls until well into the fourth quarter, even after taking a double-digit lead in the first quarter and sending Hoiberg scrambling for early timeouts.

“You can expect it because you haven’t played with that group before,” LaVine said. “We’re gonna get that chemistry down. We (only) had a couple practices with that lineup.”

Whether it’s the lineup change or just the rookie blues, the year has clearly caught up with Markkanen, who only made one field goal in 32 minutes.

“Gotta get some extra shots up. I see myself thinking too much,” Markkanen said. “That’s how it is. Of course it’s frustrating to not make shots but it is what it is. Gotta work through it.”

Markkanen has gone one-for-eight in each game coming from the All-Star break and missed all seven of his 3-point attempts.

“He’s shooting the heck out of the ball in practice,” Hoiberg said. “He’s struggling right now with his confidence, no question about it. As a shooter, you gotta keep looking to be aggressive, take the open ones. It takes one game to get that confidence back.”

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

MINNEAPOLIS — That feeling of having your knee buckle out of nowhere, Zach LaVine is all-too familiar with it.

That feeling of being on the sidelines and watching Jimmy Butler’s knee give out, Fred Hoiberg has been there, too.

Different perspectives, and different reactions but Butler’s knee injury produced a sick feeling to many who watched it Friday night. Butler turned to pivot in the Timberwolves’ game against the Houston Rockets and immediately collapsed on the floor, having to be carried off.

LaVine tore his ACL in Detroit over a year ago, while it was revealed Butler suffered a right meniscus injury. But it looked all the same and LaVine understood the uncertainty Butler must’ve been feeling before the MRI revealed it wasn’t an ACL injury.

“It’s scary,” LaVine said following morning shootaround at the Target Center Saturday afternoon. “I wish him the best. You don’t want to see that happen to anybody. Especially a player of his caliber and what he’s done for the team.”

When LaVine injured his ACL, he actually played a few more minutes before being removed and going to the locker room. The time between being evaluated by doctors and them coming back feels like a lifetime.

“It’s scary. You know you hurt yourself, you don’t know how bad,” LaVine said. “You think you’re good, you’re a tough minded person trying to get through it.”

“I saw him on the ground trying to get up, (Rockets guard) Chris Paul made him sit down. Jimmy’s a tough dude. Thoughts and prayers going out to him.”

Butler and LaVine were the centerpieces of the draft day trade involving the Bulls and Timberwolves. With Butler suffering the injury the night before playing his former team a second time, the timing produced a bunch of memories.

In Hoiberg’s first year with the Bulls, Butler went down in a somewhat similar manner in Denver, a non-contact injury. It looked just as bad, and Butler was taken off the floor in a wheelchair.

Thankfully it was a right knee strain that cost him several weeks but it wasn’t as bad as it looked. Considering the minutes he’s played over the last few years, Hoiberg was asked if Butler pushes himself too hard to be on the floor.

“Jimmy he wants to be out there,” Hoiberg said. “I remember the first year in Denver, he went down with what looked to be a serious injury. Thankfully he was back on the floor after 15-16 games.”

Actually, Butler missed 11 consecutive games before coming back for a nationally-televised game against the Rockets, playing 34 minutes in a Bulls win and missing the next three games for recovery.

“We really worried when he went down but it wasn’t something that ended his season,” Hoiberg said. “Jimmy’s a worker. He’s one of the hardest working guys I’ve seen. It’s a huge reason for the type of player he is, that work ethic to make him one of the elite players in the league.”