If Kris Dunn’s right knee cooperates, he’ll open his fifth NBA season on Dec. 23 playing for his third team -- and against the one that gave up on him.
The Atlanta Hawks signed Dunn to a two-year, $10 million deal once the Bulls made him an unrestricted free agent by not tendering him a qualifying offer. And it just so happens the Hawks visit the United Center for both teams’ regular-season opener.
“Easy,” Dunn said Saturday when asked what that experience will be like. “Ain’t no fans so it ain’t going to be, like, kind of heartfelt. Before the game even starts, I might talk to a couple guys there that I was really close with. Other than that, let’s play ball.”
If you expected anything else from Dunn, well, you haven’t watched how he plays or his mindset overall. Dunn knows as well as anyone that the NBA is a business. And he’s always looking at the person he’s guarding as if he stole Dunn’s lunch money.
As he said during his first Zoom media availability since signing with his new team, he talks trash in NBA games as if he were playing pick-up ball.
“I was just trying to work on my game throughout the summer. Whatever happens, happens,” Dunn said of his approach as the Bulls’ new management team of Artūras Karnišovas and Marc Eversley took over. “It’s one of those things where you control what you can control type of deal.”
Dunn sprained the MCL in his right knee on Jan. 31, ending a season that featured him narrowly missing out on second-team All-Defense honors. Karnišovas and Eversley arrived in April as Dunn worked to rehabilitate his knee, which in part didn’t allow him to attend the Bulls’ voluntary September workouts.
But by then, the writing was on the wall. Former executive vice president John Paxson and former general manager Gar Forman traded for Dunn as part of the decision to rebuild and send away Jimmy Butler. The new regime had no ties to him.
“They were great to me, had a couple conversations,” Dunn said. “I was there early when they first got there, working out, trying to rehab my knee. After that, I kind of departed. Went to Providence, (Rhode Island), Boston. Be around my family and friends, just working on my knee.”
Asked to summarize his three-season run in Chicago, Dunn referenced the January 2018 play in which he suffered a concussion and chipped teeth after falling from a dunk against the Warriors. The play came during one of Dunn’s best stretches as a Bull.
“It was good. I can’t have too many complaints besides the injuries that I had. I had some bruises and bumps, falling on my face, taking a little piece out of the wood on the court. Overall, it was a great experience,” Dunn said. “I met great guys. They still my guys to this day. Coaching staff was amazing to me, the organization. Can’t have too many complaints.”
Dunn doesn’t look back. He doesn’t do much introspection. If you’re on his team, it’s cool. If you’re not, you’re the enemy.
That’s why his comments about Trae Young, who he exchanged words with once in an incident that led to Young’s ejection, shouldn’t surprise.
“Great player. Changing the game in the sense of his shooting. He shoots the ball very far, way beyond the 3-point line. He can get to the rim, make plays for others,” Dunn said. “You can’t really say he has too many weaknesses on offense.
Dunn used the word “grateful” to describe his new experience, singling out the ability to be teammates with Rajon Rondo as “a blessing.”
And Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce is equally pleased.
“There’s not a guy in this league that I’m afraid to put him on, especially on the perimeter,” Pierce said. “You know who he is. There are a few teams in our league who have those guys. You’d rather have him on your team. You hate them when they’re on the other team. You can’t stand them. You love them when they’re on your team because you know you’re going to get that dogfight and that competitiveness.
“He’s going to take that challenge the way you think the challenge should be taken. He’s that guy. And I think more importantly, our guys know he’s that guy. There’s a tremendous amount of buy-in. He’s a guy who starts your defense.”
Dunn said he’s doing everything but taking contact with his on-court work, calling the MCL sprain a “very gruesome injury.” He said improving his 3-point shooting will be a focus this season.
But he also knows his role.
“Just bringing that energy, bringing that dog mentality -- basically what I did last year with the Bulls,” Dunn said. “Just bring it over here and I wouldn’t say teach but bring everybody to a whole new level. I think we have a couple great defenders already. I think they just need the motivation and someone out there to push them be what they can be. I’m just going to be me on the defensive end.”