It didn’t take Jim Boylen finally officially confirming it, or even seeing Kris Dunn exit the training room Tuesday still on crutches, to know that the Bulls’ guard’s season is over.
Multiple outlets, including NBC Sports Chicago, already had reported that likelihood when an early February MRI exam confirmed a second strained MCL in as many seasons in Dunn’s right knee.
That didn’t make Boylen’s disappointment any less palpable when he became the first team official to confirm it.
“Unfortunately, yes,” Boylen said before the Bulls flew to Minnesota, where they face the Timberwolves Wednesday. “It’s a tough one, man. He had a helluva year.”
That Dunn did. In fact, his role acceptance following a disengaged offseason is one of the more underrated storylines to this season. Dunn did a reclamation project on his career, even as the Bulls’ woes continued.
If the Bulls extend a qualifying offer by June 29, Dunn will be a restricted free agent this summer. His market will be an intriguing one to monitor. On the one hand, he grew into an elite defender, averaging 2 steals to rank second leaguewide behind Ben Simmons. On the other, his 25.9 percent 3-point shooting made him an offensive liability at times, with opposing defenses playing well off him.
League gossip has existed all season that the Clippers are at least one team that planned to show interest in Dunn this offseason. Whether his injury changes that or what other teams get involved is unknown.
What is known is that Dunn deserves credit for looking inward and reviving his career. As recently as last summer, it appeared stalled out. If trade talks with the Grizzlies involving a sign-and-trade for Justin Holiday had panned out, Dunn would’ve been playing for his third team in four seasons.
Instead, he listened to people he trusted, accepted his role of initially coming off the bench and fit into the defensive identity Boylen wanted to create.
Historically, the Bulls have let the market dictate matters involving their restricted free agents. It wouldn’t surprise for a similar scenario to play out with Dunn. If the Bulls extend the $4.6 million qualifying offer, Dunn also could play on that and become an unrestricted free agent in 2021.
For a player with Dunn’s injury history, that seems like a shaky proposition. Especially since the injury cost Dunn the starting appearances he needed to earn a higher qualifying offer of $7 million. The guard should be looking for guaranteed, long-term money.
Dunn suffered the freak injury on the first play of the Bulls’ Jan. 31 road loss at the Nets when Thad Young’s head crashed into his knee after taking a charge. That Kyrie Irving proceeded to scorch the Bulls for 54 points on 19-for-23 shooting underscored the importance of Dunn’s defensive presence.
Will it be enough for Dunn to remain with the Bulls? He’s at least played himself into that possibility, which seemed a longshot scenario when the season began.