There has been plenty of speculation about how Kris Dunn reacted to the Bulls drafting a point guard in Coby White, acquired a multi-positional player whose best games have come at point guard in Tomas Satoransky and re-signed a point guard in Ryan Arcidiacono who just happens to be a Jim Boylen favorite.
That speculation only intensified during NBA Summer League, when league sources indicated at the time that the Bulls were shopping Dunn and that his camp was open to a new home.
Nevertheless, Dunn is here, on the eve of training camp, a competitive September of informal workouts with teammates in his rearview mirror and praise flowing from all directions about his play.
Dunn quieted the speculation during a nearly 10-minute interview at Media Day, flashing humility, introspection and, what’s best for the Bulls, a still competitive and clear mind.
“Mentally, I’m the best I’ve been,” Dunn said Monday at the Advocate Center. “I got to go back home, be around my son, my family and friends and everything. The Bulls brought in some great pieces. We all gel well. This September, I really focused on how I can improve---being aggressive, finding my spots and how I can make others better.”
The cynical approach would be to view Dunn’s comments as coming from a player entering a contract year or executive vice president John Paxson’s effusive praise as an executive angling to restore trade value. But the eve of training camp is no time for cynicism.
And Dunn sounded convincing as a player who is ready to contribute to winning in whatever form that takes.
“You know me, I tell people this all the time: I’m big on film. I think to be the best I can, I have to go see what I did wrong,” Dunn said. “Assess each year and that’s what I do year after year. I have some people in my corner who are not just yes men---my family, my friends, some of my old teammates. They played a big part: ‘Kris, you gotta do this better.’ And I agreed with them. You have to own up as a man to the things you have to do better. I did that and got into the gym and came back with a clear-headed mind.”
Dunn spoke these words standing on the court, away from the podium. Eight players in all spoke there, including faces of the franchise Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen, newcomers Satoransky and Thaddeus Young, rookies White and Daniel Gafford and the two Jrs, Otto Porter and Wendell Carter.
That Dunn didn’t speak at the podium is yet another sign of him being verbally dropped from the core that he used to be included in following Jimmy Butler’s trade to Minnesota for him, LaVine and Markkanen. Paxson, who has never questioned Dunn’s competitiveness or potential, started adding Carter instead to that list in public comments last season.
Dunn joked that he was merely following the written instructions on the sheet of paper a staffer handed to him, sending him to various stations for photo shoots or to film scoreboard promotional material. But Dunn is also savvy enough to know how far he had fallen---and how his September approach could be changing some of the organizational tune.
“They told me in the (April) exit meetings those (offseason moves) were going to happen,” Dunn said. “It’s part of the business. You can’t be a professional if you can’t take on those kinds of things.
“We know Zach and Lauri are phenomenal players for us. I understand, and as a team we understand, we need them to be great players for us. At the same time, it’s not just two players who are going to help the team win. All of us have to contribute and do our jobs.”
At the end of last season, Dunn said he struggled to find his role playing off the ball. The career 32.3% 3-point shooter has authored his best moments as a Bull with the ball in his hands, a role not always available in Boylen’s multi ballhandler system.
Satoransky projects to perhaps fit better with LaVine given that Satoransky has been a low-usage guard known for ball distribution and solid decision-making. But Dunn insists there’s still a role for himself.
“I think I definitely got better with those issues,” Dunn said of playing off the ball. “I learned. Just do a little bit of everything. I know I can be a great defensive piece for this team. Score the ball at times, get people involved, rebound. I bring a lot to the team. Coach going to use me where he needs me.”
Dunn has battled injuries with the Bulls, playing in 52 and 46 games. But he has started 87 of those. And that role is where Dunn still views himself.
“Do I view myself as a starter? I think anybody would view themselves as a starter. Who doesn’t want to start?” Dunn said. “But it’s Coach’s choice. And I’m going to do whatever I can to help this team win. Whatever the team needs me to do, I’m here for it.”
Boylen said competition for the position is healthy. Paxson agreed.
“And I’ll say this too. One of the things we like about this roster — we’ve talked about the versatility — Tomas Satoransky can play 1, 2 or 3. He’s 6-7. He’s just a basketball player. He knows how to play. He’s a good passer, a good shooter, a good decision-maker. He can play off the ball,” Paxson said. “Coby’s young.
“I do want to specifically mention Kris Dunn, though, because he really had a terrific month. I think all of us up here are really proud of him, the commitment he’s made. As players, he’s obviously playing for something. But he’s really committed himself to this group. Sometimes guys get challenged, and we’re all proud of how he’s responded. I really am. That’s been a big thing. And he can help us. Kris Dunn’s a very good defender. And he can do some things on the floor that we’re going to need. Like Jim said, he’s got a little nasty to him. That never hurts.”
Satoransky played his best basketball last season for the Wizards starting for the injured John Wall. But he, too, is taking a team-first approach.
“I don’t expect it to be a rivalry between us. I don’t even know if I’m going to play against him a lot at the point guard position. I think it’s about getting better and getting the best out of us, not only Kris and me but also Coby and Arch,” Satoransky said. “There’s a lot of playmaking, and I really like that. I think everyone should bring the best out of each other in the training camp and I think that’s what’s going to happen.”
The eve of training camp always is about good vibes and positive sound bites. But Dunn knows where he has been and what he has done, even as he’s now looking forward.
“You gotta love it. You really gotta love it,” Dunn said of his journey. “I mean, I done went through it in college. Just gotta be strong. I got a great supporting cast that allows me to stay level-headed. Stay strong and just go into the gym. Keep working on your craft. Try to be the best player and teammate you can be. That’s what I brought into August and September.
“Just focus on leading the team. Coby is young. I understand it’s going to take him time. He’s got room to grow. But he’s a talented player. Satoransky is a great player. He’s going to be a good piece to this team. He has more experience than me. He’s been in playoff games. He’s been a good teammate to me. Learn from those guys too. They might see something I don’t see on the court. It’s healthy.”