Kris Dunn continues to buy into role — and the Bulls are better for it

Kris Dunn continues to buy into role — and the Bulls are better for it

Jim Boylen has plenty of pet phrases. Role acceptance is one of them.

And if you want to get the Bulls coach rolling, ask him about Kris Dunn’s performance in that department.

“Big time. Big time,” Boylen repeated, for good measure. “He just wants to win. He’s the first guy in the breakfast room. You have to be in the building 45 minutes before [practice]. He’s in 1 hour, 45 minutes before. He does his workout 45 minutes before everybody else with Coach [Nate] Loenser. He is locked in. He cares. He always cared. And he’s playing winning basketball. I’m really happy for him.”

There may be no greater compliment from a coach to a player than to say one is playing winning basketball. Relayed Boylen’s comment, Dunn didn’t take it lightly.

“That means a lot. That’s what I try to do,” Dunn said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. “I come from a winning program at Providence. I know what winning looks like. And I know what it takes to win.”

Right now, that involves Dunn accepting his role as a reserve aimed at wreaking defensive havoc on opponents. When Dunn scores 13 points, as he did in Tuesday’s victory over the Knicks, it’s a bonus.

There’s a lot going right with Dunn’s game these days. He leads the NBA with 25 steals, posting multiple steals in seven of 11 games. He has tallied 30 assists to just nine turnovers in 224 minutes, emblematic of solid decision-making. And he’s shooting 47.1 percent from the field — a figure made even more impressive by his anemic 17.6 percent shooting from 3-point range.

“I take pride in my defense,” Dunn said. “The second unit, I think we have good defenders in our group. Archie [Ryan Arcidiacono], he’s a dog. Thad [Young], he’s a dog. Coby [White], he’s a dog. I could go on and on. We try to come in and bring great energy and try to maintain the lead or, if we’re down, try to get it back.”

But Dunn’s biggest area of growth has been his role acceptance. It’s not easy losing a starting job, particularly when it comes on the heels of executive vice president John Paxson publicly challenging Dunn. And then the Bulls acquired Tomas Satoransky in a sign-and-trade transaction, drafted White and re-signed Arcidiacono.

Multiple outlets reported over the offseason that Dunn and his representatives wanted a change of scenery. The Bulls, league sources said in July, held trade talks with several teams, including the Grizzlies, regarding a sign-and-trade transaction for Justin Holiday.

Instead, Dunn returned. And since the first day of voluntary September workouts, he has maintained a positive attitude.

“It’s a good team we have. I just wanted to be a part of it. We have a lot of talented players, a good group of guys. I wanted to buy into what Coach is preaching, buy into the system,” Dunn said.  “All in all, I feel my game can go anywhere — starting, coming off the bench. Wherever you put me at, I’m a hooper.”

This example hasn’t been lost on young players like the rookie White.

“That’s my dog,” White told NBC Sports Chicago. “We’re part of the bench mob. Ain’t that right, KD? I love playing with KD. I know he’s going to compete at both ends. If things aren’t going well, he can turn the game around with his energy. He’s passionate. You love to play with people who play hard and want to win.

“Our relationship has grown on and off the court. He has instilled confidence in me. I haven’t been shooting it well before [Tuesday night]. KD told me to keep being aggressive and keep shooting. He’s always encouraging his teammates. When one of us does something good, he’s the first to hype us up.”

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Bulls interview Nuggets GM Arturas Karnisovas for front office role

Bulls interview Nuggets GM Arturas Karnisovas for front office role

The Bulls have interviewed Denver Nuggets general manager Arturas Karnisovas for head of basketball operations, according to NBC Sports Chicago Bulls Insider K.C. Johnson.

Karnisovas is in his seventh season with the Nuggets and third as general manager. He made his start as an international scout and is well-respected for his global connections, chops as a talent evaluator and management experience.

In his time in Denver, he is credited in some part for the Nuggets snaring star center Nikola Jokic with the No. 41 pick in the 2014 draft, as well as recent lottery hits, Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. Along with Tim Connelly, he helped pioneer the construction of one of the most touted international scouting departments in the league.

RELATED: Breaking down the four front office candidates the Bulls plan to interview 

Johnson added that the Bulls "hope to have process finalized sooner than later." Utah Jazz general manager Justin Zanik interviewed for the position on Monday.

Also on Wednesday, news broke that the Bulls staged recent interviews with other candidates. NBC Sports Chicago reported that the Bulls interviewed former Atlanta Hawks general manager Danny Ferry, ESPN.com Adrian Wojnarowski's reported that the Bulls interviewed former Hawks GM Wes Wilcox and The Athletic reported that the Bulls interviewed former Raptors, 76ers and Suns executive Bryan Colangelo.

Sources said Karnisovas made a strong impression during his interview and there are initial plans for the two sides to talk again. 

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Ranking the top five dunks in Bulls franchise history, once and for all

Ranking the top five dunks in Bulls franchise history, once and for all

From Jordan to Pippen to Rose to LaVine, the Bulls have employed a number of transcendent athletes in their franchise's history.

Even in tumultuous times, the unmatched bunnies of the names above (and many more) have translated into a number of exhilirating highlights, especially in the dunk category.

But only five slams can make NBC Sports Chicago's Definitive Top Five Bulls Dunks of All Time© ranking. See below, but don't even think about @-ing me:

5. Michael Jordan finger wags Dikembe Mutombo

How does one not crack a smile thinking of this gem? Needed for context: This dunk came months after Mutombo claimed, on camera at the 1997 All-Star game, that Jordan “hadn’t gotten” him with a poster-dunk yet in his career — a show of hubris that was met with utter bemusement by Jordan. 

Fast forward to Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals that year, and it was revenge time. Off a deft two-man action with Luc Longley, Jordan streaked across the baseline, corralled a bounce pass, and in one sweeping motion rose and stuffed the ball through the basket — directly on Mutombo’s forehead. 

And as Jordan backpedaled down the floor, he was sure to give Mutombo a taste of his own medicine in the form of a finger wag. Even Phil Jackson cracked a smile. That game, a 107-92 Bulls win, decided that series, and the Bulls went on to clinch their fifth title of the decade weeks later.

4. Taj Gibson bodies Dwyane Wade in the Eastern Conference Finals

I maintain it is impossible to watch this dunk without emitting audible and involuntary noises. The ferocity. The spontaneity. I don’t have a word for this, but the way Gibson bounces off Wade mid-air, but instead of sending him sprawling to the floor, the impact actually boosts him higher into the air. That’s when you know you really bodied someone.

What’s more, this slam came in a Game 1 of the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals that the Bulls seized over the widely villainized Miami Heat, 103-82. Of course, the Heatles went on to rip four straight wins en route to a five-game series victory, but in the moment, this felt like a coming-of-age for an ever-underestimated Bulls team on a meteoric rise. 

This Gibson dunk serves as a snapshot of that sentiment, even all these years laters. Memories. 

3. Derrick Rose goes upstairs on Goran Dragic

Everything about this dunk is iconic. From Rose’s trademark explosiveness off two feet, to the mid-air cockback into a tomahawk, to the exuberance of Bulls color commentator Stacey King:

“Oh, stop it! Stop it! Did not do him like that! What are you doing, Dragic? Did you not get the memo? Derrick Rose can go upstairs!

Then, on the replay: “I want to go HIGHER! Oh my goodness.”

Soul-snatching stuff from Rose, and a legendary call by King. Plus, coming off a Rookie of the Year campaign and strong playoff showing against the Celtics in 2009, it added another notch to Rose’s rapidly rising star. All in all, one of the more poignant memories from that era.

2. Jordan pummels Patrick Ewing

To maximally appreciate this dunk requires a frame-by-frame breakdown of the possession that led to it. Bear with me.

It begins with a full-court Knicks press, which the Bulls busted by way of a looping Horace Grant pass to John Paxson near half-court. Paxson reeled the ball in, landed, and, faced with two defenders in his grill, quickly flared a pass out to Jordan on the left wing. Normally, an offensive team is rewarded for busting an opponent’s press with some form of a numbers advantage on the attacking end, but not Jordan. On the catch, he was immediately met by Mark Jackson and a flailing-armed Kiki Vandewhege, but as Jackson lurched forward to attempt a steal, Jordan skirted past him with a decisive left-handed drive. For an instant, he appeared on a clear path to the basket.

But just when he had built up a head of steam, the stout Charles Oakley slid in to block his path. Jordan quickly took one dribble backwards, then cut back to the rim on a dime, leaving Oakley and Jackson (trailing the play) completely off balance. One dribble later, Jordan was at the rim and elevated for a gravity-defying slam that rendered the 7-foot Patrick Ewing a traffic cone.

For those keeping track at home: En route to this dunk, Jordan effectively waxed three Knicks defenders (all of solid reputation!) before even reaching Ewing, adding to the impossibility of a dunk that deserves a place on this list in a vacuum. Is this the time to mention this sequence took place in the decisive Game 3 of a first round playoff series between the two in 1991, the year Jordan and the Bulls would eventually be crowned NBA champions for the first time?

1. Scottie Pippen ends Ewing and Spike Lee

Poor Patrick. We won’t go pixel-by-pixel on this one, but Pippen’s feat of superheroic athleticism and elasticity here is unmatched in Bulls dunk history. On this transition slam, Pippen took off from damn near outside the painted area, bumped bodies with Ewing in the air, and still finished from well-above the rim, nearly landing on top of him on the way down.

That landing is where things got interesting. Pippen, graceful as ever,  transitioned seamlessly from air-dancer to trash-talker by stepping over Ewing (and sharing a few words with him) after each of them hit the floor — Ewing on his behind, Pippen on his feet. 

Ewing got a shove in from underneath, and Spike Lee, even sitting on the Chicago Stadium floor, attempted to come to Ewing’s defense. But Pippen brushed them both off. Even though he earned a technical foul for the step-over and taunt, it’s clear who came out of this interchange the winner. Is there a play more emblematic of the Bulls-Knicks rivalry?

Years later, on ESPN’s The Jump, Pippen said that it was his “most disrespectful dunk” ever, adding with a laugh that he and Ewing (as of May 2019) were not on speaking terms because of it. 

If that’s not No. 1 worthy, I don’t know what is.

Every other night through April 15, NBC Sports Chicago is airing the entirety of the Bulls' 1996 NBA championship run. Find the full schedule here.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.