Denzel Valentine lost an entire season to injury and playing time to a coach’s decision.
But two things the former first-round pick never let go of---confidence in his game and a desire to remain in Chicago.
The former remains palpable in Valentine’s voice and words as he detailed the execution of the latter in a Saturday afternoon phone conversation with NBC Sports Chicago. Valentine is ready to get to work after signing his one-year, $4.7 million qualifying offer to return to the Bulls.
“It’s a blessing,” Valentine said. “My brother is still in town. We have a new coaching staff, new front office. It’s like a fresh start, but I’m still comfortable. So it’s the best of both worlds.”
Indeed, as older brother, Drew, continues to serve Porter Moser as an assistant coach at Loyola, Valentine feels he has connected with new executive vice president Artūras Karnišovas, general manager Marc Eversley, coach Billy Donovan and other new faces.
“The interaction during the bubble was really good,” Valentine said of the Bulls’ voluntary offseason program in September. “I got to know Arturas, Marc and (assistant general manager) JJ (Polk) and hang around those guys. It felt like the team had new life with our new coaches. I’m excited to be back and get started.
“I think I can help the team a lot. I think I’m a key player on the team. I think I deserve to play. Obviously, I have to go earn that. But I think I can help the team in a variety of ways with my versatility, my shooting, my leadership. I feel I can be that winning presence on the court.
Karnišovas cited an emphasis on shooting and versatility as drivers for his decisions to extend Valentine and let Kris Dunn and Shaquille Harrison become unrestricted free agents. Valentine has shot 36.6 percent from 3-point range over three NBA seasons.
Valentine missed the entire 2018-19 season following reconstructive ankle surgery and then endured a difficult start to the 2019-20 season. Former coach Jim Boylen initially kept Valentine out of the rotation before eventually playing him an average of 13.6 minutes over 36 games.
By several accounts, Valentine flashed his passing ability and leadership qualities during the voluntary September workouts, which Donovan didn’t coach but kept tabs on shortly after his hire.
“I played pretty well,” Valentine said. “I’m feeling healthy right now and that’s the main thing. I’ve always been confident. It’s just about being healthy and getting the right opportunity. I feel really confident.”
Donovan was in his first season with the Thunder when Valentine’s Michigan State team defeated his former employer in Florida during a December 2015 matchup. But Valentine said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo and Donovan have “a great relationship” and he’s heard “nothing but good things” about Donovan.
After an offseason in which he mostly worked on strength training in Chicago, this is for sure: Valentine is eager to get going.
“Arturas seems pumped about our situation. I think that speaks for itself. I just feel the energy,” Valentine said. “Nothing is going to be promised this year. But I’m willing to compete for a spot and try to help the team as much as I can.”