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.”