Bulls

Despite tough stretch for Bulls, Mike Dunleavy showing his value

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Despite tough stretch for Bulls, Mike Dunleavy showing his value

The Bulls’ season appears much like pieces to a puzzle one can’t put together until after time has expired, therefore limiting the value of the pieces that would otherwise be magnified.

Players have been shuffled in and out all season long, but the one player Fred Hoiberg has bemoaned not having from the start of this year is Mike Dunleavy, whose injury-induced absence was written off as an opportunity for Doug McDermott to fulfill his potential as a lottery pick from 2014.

Dunleavy seems to settle things on the perimeter, even in the absence of Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose. Hoiberg hasn’t been shy of saying the Bulls had a losing record when Dunleavy was out last year, though it was a much smaller sample size (19 games) than this time around.

“He's just so smart. Even if he's not making shots, he knows where to be,” Hoiberg said. “The fact that you've got to guard him closely, hug him out on the perimeter. A forward with his size, at 6-foot-9, he's such a versatile, smart player. He's one of the smartest guys in the league. When he and Pau (Gasol) were out there, they had a good chemistry together.”

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He’s still under a minute restriction as he recovers from back surgery, but his contributions have been tangible, scoring in double figures in three of the last four games, as well as shooting 44 percent from 3 since his return.

“I mean, what’s wrong with — I’m cool with the minutes I’m playing now,” Dunleavy joked. “Honestly. hopefully we’ll continue to build on it, but I’m at a good amount right now where I feel like I can have a good impact on the game. Playing 14, 16, 18 minutes, that’s a little tougher. But where I’m at now is good.”

The Bulls have gone 3-6 since Dunleavy’s return, so it’s not like he’s prevented the slide to the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff picture — and if they wind up missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008, it’ll be much ado about nothing anyways.

But the one thing the Bulls didn’t have on the perimeter was someone dependable and consistent, even if the ceiling isn’t on a star level. Yes, he knows where he’s supposed to be, but he also recognizes when it’s necessary to break things off for a backdoor cut or a flare to the perimeter when things bog down.

McDermott’s play has improved with Dunleavy’s presence, as the two have spent time on the floor together when Hoiberg chooses to go small in the frontcourt.

“Well, I hope it helps. That's what you do as a leader, you want to set a good example,” Dunleavy said. “I know coming up in this league when I was younger, watching guys like Cliff Robinson, Jeff Foster (in Golden State and Indiana), guys like that, just every day were tough, good veterans. You learn a lot from those guys. I certainly did. So hopefully I can set an example and help a few young guys out.”

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The Bulls were scouring the trade market early in the season for a wing with athleticism and more youth while Dunleavy’s status was in doubt, but one doubts they’re unhappy with what he’s providing now.

But one wonders if there’s enough time remaining in the season for this piece to really be effective enough for the Bulls to make a genuine run when the games really count.

“We'll see,” he said. “The good news is we're close in the standings, although we haven't played great, we're still in it. That's the positive of it.”

In some ways he should be a safety blanket for Rose and Butler when they do return, as they know he’s reliable and as evidenced by some of his recent takedowns, unafraid to throw his body in front of people by way of “any means necessary.”

“Mike's got a little nasty streak to him, and that's what makes him a great player,” Hoiberg said. “Rarely do you see when Mike fouls somebody, he's going to make the basket. Some of the other guys, they love to have him because they'll put it in the hoop on them. That's not going to happen with Mike. That ball doesn't go in the basket on a hard foul.”

When asked if he was tough — like James Bond or Arnold Schwarzenegger tough — Dunleavy replied in the fashion that said a lot by not saying a whole lot.

“I'm Chris Rock tough,” he said.

Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment

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AP

Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment

There were no Lakers or Clippers in the 2018 All-Star Game, but Los Angeles was well-represented with plenty of homegrown talent, plenty of historians with Los Angeles ties and all the pageantry L.A. can provide.

Russell Westbrook, Paul George and James Harden are among the All-Stars who came home to put on the biggest show of entertainment the league has to offer, and the new format featuring captains LeBron James and Stephen Curry produced one of the most competitive finishes in recent All-Star history as the spectacle wasn’t lost on DeRozan, who plays for the conference-leading Toronto Raptors.

“It was a dream come true,” DeRozan said. “I’ll forever be a part of this, and to come out and be a starter in my hometown, it was a dream come true.”

With Chicago hosting the event in 2020, one wonders if the city or the Bulls will be as represented.

“What better time to do it than in Chicago?” Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen said about his aspirations of being an All-Star sooner rather than later.

New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, to this point, is the only Chicagoan carrying the torch as an All-Star. For years, Chicago could claim their homegrown talent rivaled the likes of Los Angeles and New York, the self-proclaimed “Mecca”.

But now they’ve fallen behind in the way of star power, as Derrick Rose has gone from MVP to one of the biggest “what if” stories in modern-day sports. Jabari Parker was expected to be next in line but his future as a star is murky due to the same dreaded injury bug.

“I didn’t know that. But there’s a lot of great players (from Chicago),” Davis said Saturday during media availability. “Jabari is just coming back, Derrick is going through what he’s going through. That’s fine. D-Wade is getting older. We have a lot of great guys. Guys have been hurt, in D-Wade’s case he’s just getting up there in age now (laughs).”

Davis is arguably the league’s most versatile big man, keeping the New Orleans Pelicans afloat while DeMarcus Cousins is out with an Achilles injury. He’s had to watch the likes of George deal with free agent questions about the prospect of coming home to L.A., even after he was traded from Indiana to Oklahoma City in the offseason.

It still hasn’t stopped the chants from Lakers fans, panting after George in the hope he’ll be a savior of sorts. And even though his contract isn’t up for another few seasons, teams are lining up in the hope they can acquire him through free agency or trade.

It could very well be him getting the chants when the All-Star party comes to Chicago and he could be joined by the likes of Markkanen and Zach LaVine in the big game.

LaVine was in Los Angeles for the weekend and Markkanen opened eyes around the league with his showing in the rising stars game as well as the skills challenge.

Davis could wind up being the object of everyone’s affection and could find himself being recruited by the likes of LaVine.

Even though 2021 is a long way away, a guy can dream, right?

“I mean, I’m cool with a lot of dudes in the NBA. I feel like I’m a likeable guy,” LaVine told NBCSportsChicago.com about recruiting star players to the Bulls franchise. “I can talk about situations like that, it would be my first time being put in a position. It would be a little bit different but I think I can handle it.”

LaVine has his own contract situation to take care of this summer, being a restricted free agent but understands the Bulls’ salary cap position and their long-term goals.

“Yeah I think once the offseason comes and everybody settles down, and I’m comfortable, and I know the position I’ll be in,” LaVine said to NBCSportsChicago.com.

“I think we’ll start having those conversations because we want to get the franchise back to where it was, on that high plateau. That’s what it’s supposed to be.”

“I’m trying to solidify myself in the league to a certain degree. Once you start reaching those points you can talk to anybody to get to where you want to get to.”

LaVine attended several events over the weekend and shared the same space as several All-Stars in non-media settings. It’s easy to see why he would think he could have that affect with his peers.

Being careful about the rules on tampering, he said about a potential sit-down with Davis, “I would bring some Harold’s chicken to the meeting and we’ll be all good.”

Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie

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USA TODAY

Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie

Los Angeles—Lauri Markkanen called himself “The Finnisher” when asked what the movie of his life would be called.

Apparently, that moniker didn’t apply to the All-Star Skills challenge as he took down the best big men but couldn’t close against a former Bull, Spencer Dinwiddie, in the final.

The contest highlights players’ ability to dribble around cones shaped like NBA logos, throwing a chest pass into a net while having to complete a layup and then 3-pointer before their opponent does.

Markkanen took down Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid before facing off with Dinwiddie. He held a pose after hitting a triple to beat the uber confident Embiid, in what will likely be used as a memorable gif following the weekend.

His confidence doesn’t come across as blatantly as Embiid’s, but that snapshot shows he’s no humble star in the making. He didn’t even practice for the contest, by his own admission.

“I heard some of the guys did,” Markkanen said. “I didn’t do much, just before the competition, I did a little warm-up.”

Missing on the first pass attempt into the circular net in the final, it gave Dinwiddie the advantage he wouldn’t relinquish, hitting on his second 3-point attempt before Markkanen could make it downcourt to contest.

“It’s a lot harder than I’ve seen,” Markkanen said. “I thought it was gonna be super easy but it was kind of tough. Maybe I need to hold my follow through (on the pass).”

“I saw he missed (the first shot) and I started going. I thought he would’ve missed it too. I think I would’ve gotten it on the third shot.”

Being one of the multi-dimensional big men in today’s game who can be adept on the perimeter as well as the interior, it almost seems like the contest was made for Markkanen. Although he doesn’t do much handling in Fred Hoiberg’s offense, it’s clearly a skill he will develop as time goes on.

The last two winners of the skills challenge were Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis, and Markkanen was well aware of the recent trend.

“The last two years the bigs have won,” Markkanen said. “I’m kind of pissed that I couldn’t keep the streak going after (those two). I think there’s a lot of guys who can do that now, it’s why they changed the format to bigs versus smalls.”

For Dinwiddie, who was discarded by the Bulls last season after a promising start in the preseason so they could pick up R.J. Hunter, he’s taken advantage of an opportunity with Brooklyn.

“I think for Chicago it was just another series of unfortunate events,” he said. “They were in win-now mode. I was an unproven guard on a non-guaranteed contract and they felt Michael Carter-Williams gave them a better shot to win.”