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Bulls: Gibson, Dunleavy give different outlooks on injury front

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Bulls: Gibson, Dunleavy give different outlooks on injury front

It wouldn't truly have been a Bulls media day without injury updates, rehabilitation schedules and timetables for returns making up a significant portion of the conversation.

But as the Bulls enter the Fred Hoiberg era tomorrow with the commencement of training camp, the team's two biggest injury concerns appear headed in different directions.

The good news is Taj Gibson is recovering well from ankle surgery he underwent in June. Gibson, who revealed two weeks ago at his youth basketball camp that he played through a ligament tear in the playoffs, is ahead of schedule and still is aiming to be available on Oct. 27 when the Bulls begin their regular season against LeBron James and the Cavaliers. Gibson has dealt with multiple ankle sprains during his career - they cost him 20 games last season - and admitted at media day he'll be more cautious in his return this time around.

"It’s about getting back into game shape. I haven’t really been able to run for three months, so these last couple weeks have been really tough," Gibson said. "But it’s been a learning process, and I’m taking it slow."

Still, general manager Gar Forman said Gibson is ahead of schedule in his rehabilitaiton, which in mid-June was projected at four months. While he may not participate fully in two-a-day training camp sessions, Gibson has already been working out with teammates in Chicago and Forman expects him to be "very close or at 100 percent once the first game gets here."

"He's got a spring to his step," Forman said. "He looks live, he looks active, and we're really happy with where he's at.

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The same necessarily can't be said for Mike Dunleavy, who underwent a lower-back microdiscectomy on Friday. Forman said Dunleavy began having "back issues" in the summer, and the team attempted to alleviate the pain with epidurals and physical therapy. When those failed to fully correct the issue a few weeks ago, the Bulls made the decision to have the 35-year-old small forward undergo surgery.

The team announced in a press release that he was expected to miss 8-to-10 weeks following the surgery. But the 35-year-old didn't sound as confident in keeping with that timeframe. He walked gingerly to the press conference table on Monday and admitted he's unsure of when he'll return.

"I think they released to (the media) eight to 10 weeks. I really don’t have a timeframe on it," he said. "I’m coming back when I feel good enough, the doctors have cleared me. I have no idea. Hopefully that will be this season. I’m not looking at it week-by-week. It’s going to be a process, I can’t skip the steps. Going to have to listen to what these guys say, follow through with all that. I’ll be back when I get back.

"I don’t have a set amount of time in my head that I want to get back. I haven’t broken out the schedule and said, 'OK, eight weeks from this Friday is this game, I want to be back for this game.' Just can’t do it that way."

Dunleavy said recurrence is a possibility if he rushes his rehabilitation, which initially will consist of zero basketball activity "for a while."

"It’s just all about being safe about it, taking the proper steps and hopefully being back sooner than later," he said. "To put an absolute date on it or if I’m not back in eight to 10 weeks is not going to be the end of the world."

[MEDIA DAY: Rose admits looking ahead to free agency in 2017]

Dunleavy missed 19 games with an ankle injury last season after starting all 82 games in his first year with the Bulls. His absence will be significant, Hoiberg said, because of what Dunleavy provides from a team standpoint. Though he averaged just 9.4 points per game last year, the lowest mark since his rookie season, the Bulls were significantly better offensively with Dunleavy on the floor, and their defense also saw an uptick compared with him on the bench.

"We need Mike Dunleavy healthy at the end of the season, but when you look from an analytics standpoint, when Mike Dunleavy was on the floor good things happened," Hoiberg said. "And you look at the offensive efficiency, defense efficiency, those numbers, Mike was as good as anybody on our roster."

Hoiberg admitted Monday replacing Dunleavy will be done "by committee," naming reserves Tony Snell, Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic as players needing to step up and run with an extended opportunity for at least the first two months of the season. Hoiberg also added that reserve guards E'Twaun Moore and Kirk Hinrich may see increased roles, presumably with Jimmy Butler shifting to small forward.

"We’ll miss Mike a lot, but at the same time we’re going to be careful with it. And anytime something like this happens it’s a great opportunity for somebody else to step in and show what they can do," Hoiberg said. "So again, training camp’s going to be very competitive. When we step on that floor tomorrow for the first time I know those guys are going to be going at it and going after each other."

Trust the Rookie: Wendell Carter Jr. draws Opening Night start against Joel Embiid, Sixers

Trust the Rookie: Wendell Carter Jr. draws Opening Night start against Joel Embiid, Sixers

In a five-game span Wendell Carter Jr. saw preseason action against Anthony Davis, Nikola Jokic and Myles Turner. The 19-year-old rookie had his share of expected ups and downs but performed well enough that Fred Hoiberg officially announced him a starter for the team’s season opener tomorrow night.

His reward for all that hard work? A matchup against All-Pro center Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers.

It’ll be an eye-opening experience for the Duke product, who just a year ago was readying himself for his first season of college basketball and a season-opening matchup against Elon. It’s safe to assume Embiid will pose a few more problems than did Phoenix center Tyler Seibring.

“Joel Embiid was one of my role models growing up,” Embiid said before practice Wednesday. “He was someone I always wanted to pattern my game after. Just to go up against him is a remarkable feeling. He’s a very physical player. He’s a very talented player. I’m going to be able to stack up and see what all I need to work on to last in this league.”

While it’s no easy task against a talent like Embiid, who was named All-NBA Second Team last season, Carter’s most important job will be staying out of foul trouble. Carter piggy-backed an impressive Summer League with a preseason that included averages of 7.0 points and 5.6 rebounds in 21.1 minutes. But those numbers also included 7.7 fouls per 48 minutes. He racked up 17 fouls in five games, and had at least three in each.

Embiid only went to the line five times in Tuesday’s season-opening loss to the Celtics, but that was primarily against Defensive Player of the Year candidate Al Horford. Embiid won’t face as much resistance against Carter, putting the pressure on the rookie to stay on the floor.

“He’s going to have to navigate that without using his hands,” Fred Hoiberg said. “We have to be all five aware. It’s just not a one-man problem with Embiid. We have to have great awareness of him and try and mix up coverages and hopefully make him take tough shots, knowing that he’s going to hit some of those. You just can’t get deflated when he does.’’

The decision was a mere formality – Bobby Portis will start at power forward – after the frontcourt combination played considerably better in the Bulls’ final two preseason games. Though Jabari Parker was initially slotted in at power forward following Lauri Markkanen’s elbow sprain, Portis’ impressive preseason forced Hoiberg’s hand. Portis averaged 17.0 points and 5.8 rebounds and shot 55 percent from the field in just 22.4 minutes.

“It’s all about combinations out there and we felt like Bobby gave us a great start with the way he was playing,” Hoiberg said. “And then we kind of changed things up with that second unit and put the ball in Jabari’s hands, so it was more that in trying to get guys out there with the right combinations.”

Lopez may have an expanded role if Carter gets into foul trouble early, while Parker will be the facilitator on a second unit that doesn’t have much in the way of a point guard. It’s anyone’s guess as to how the frontcourt will play out once Markkanen returns in roughly a month; if Portis and Carter continue playing well, Hoiberg could opt to keep them together on the second unit and put Lopez back in the starting lineup.

But for at least Opening Night – the Bulls also get Andre Drummond and the Pistons on Saturday – it’ll be the seventh overall pick getting his NBA feet wet with a matchup against arguably the best center in basketball. But’s it a role he’s earned, and on a Bulls defense looking for any sort of improvement, Carter is the player who can anchor it.

“His defense is always going to be important for us. He’s the guy that’s the anchor in that starting unit at the rim,” Hoiberg said, “and he’s done a really solid job of making perimeter guys taking contested shots when he gets switched off, or staying vertical at the rim and trying to make a big finish over the top of him, so yeah, again it’s a great challenge, great opportunity for Wendell.”

Bulls Talk Podcast: The ultimate Bulls briefing to get you ready for Opening Night

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: The ultimate Bulls briefing to get you ready for Opening Night

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski sits down with Kendall Gill and Will Perdue to discuss all the need-to-know topics to get you ready for the season opener. The guys analyze how Lauri’s injury will make its mark on the early season rotation, whether Jabari will return to the starting unit or embrace the 6th-man role and why Portis betting on himself is the right move. Plus, Kendall has the key to unlock a “6th Man of the Year” award for Portis this season.

Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below: