Bulls

Bulls treating Mike Dunleavy return as a trade acquisition

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Bulls treating Mike Dunleavy return as a trade acquisition

SANTA MONICA, CALIF -- It’s probably not the news radical Bulls fans want to hear, but the team is certainly treating the insertion of Mike Dunleavy from his lower back surgery and subsequent setback as if it’s a trade acquisition as opposed to an actual personnel move.

With Joakim Noah’s season-ending injury and Nikola Mirotic’s acute appendicitis putting him on the shelf until after the All-Star break, the Bulls have been stripped of their depth and limiting the resources they have to actively engage in serious talks.

“I don’t know if handcuff is the word or what it is. But there’s nothing out there right now as far as I know,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said at the team’s practice at Santa Monica High School. “Hopefully we can build off a couple good road performances of late. Bobby (Portis) is going to be forced into a role obviously where he’s playing a lot of minutes now. And there are going to be times where we play smaller lineups. We’re comfortable with this group and anticipate this is the team we’ll have.”

Some of the moves other teams have approached the Bulls with has been with the thought of tearing the team down as opposed to remaining competitive in the interim, a thought the front office bristles at.

Whenever Dunleavy comes back, it’s likely the finished product for this season and the franchise will regroup come July as the salary cap rises and the trade market could open up.

“Unless something earth-shattering comes up, I don’t anticipate anything happening,” Hoiberg said. “I know those guys are working the phones, as are the other 29 teams in the league.”

As Hoiberg was talking, Dunleavy was going through his battery of shots after practice, calling himself “close” to returning. He’ll spend a couple days in Santa Cruz, California with the Bulls’ D-League affiliate to practice with them as the Bulls move onto Utah and Sacramento to start the next week.

The final hurdle, he said, is just about comfort level with his conditioning and rhythm.

“I’m getting there. I feel good. I’m getting real close,” Dunleavy said. “I’m going to spend some time down there next week with the D League team, some practices. Try to get a little more rhythm and repetition because obviously our team is playing too many games. Gotta get that done and then see where we’re at.”

After previously stating he would return to play “sometime in February”, he wouldn’t hold himself to that, leaving open the possibility of coming back this trip, which will have six more games on it in the next 10 days, starting Sunday.

“Anything’s possible. The big thing for me is getting through these two practices down there  with those guys and see where I’m at and how I feel and go from there,” Dunleavy said. “Yeah, there won’t be any of that (waiting). If I’m not ready, I’m not ready. But if I’m ready, it’s not like, ‘Let’s take an extra week.’ I’ve been out long enough. It’s time to roll.”

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Hoiberg hasn’t stated how he’ll insert Dunleavy into play, but one has to believe starting E’Twaun Moore on Thursday was done, in part, to get Tony Snell and Doug McDermott acclimated to being back to lesser roles.

Picking up the nuances of the offense and Hoiberg’s system hasn’t been too difficult, as having an able bodied veteran as opposed to the underwhelming performances from Snell and McDermott, could provide some kind of boost.

“Yeah, he picks things up very quickly,” Hoiberg said. “He’s been watching every day on the sidelines. We’ve had him running plays with the second group after practice for the last week and a half. So I anticipate Mike picking things up very quickly.”

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.”