Mike Dunleavy was drenched in sweat, doing his usual routine of jump shots and free throws after Bulls practice, another sign his return is in the near future although not immediate.
Dunleavy declined to speak to reporters after his workout following Bulls practice, but it’s clear he’s on the mend after his unexpected lower back surgery was the first salvo in a somewhat rocky start to the season.
“He’s getting closer to getting back out there on the floor,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He did a tempo run (Tuesday), all in a straight line as of right now. Hopefully in the next few days he’ll be cleared to start cutting.
“Right now is about building his strength back up. He’s been in the weight room for I think five days. [Tuesday] was an off-day for him after getting his load back up pretty good, and now the next step is getting back full movement, which hopefully will happen within the next week.”
The Bulls aren’t trying to rush Dunleavy back on the floor with strict adherence to the initial timetable, but Dunleavy will accompany the team on the upcoming four-game, eight-day west coast swing next week.
Next week marks the eighth week of the 8-10 week prognosis given on September 25 when his surgery was announced. It appears he’ll be back closer to the 10-week mark than sooner.
“On our off-days out there hopefully he’ll be able to really increase his activity,” Hoiberg said. “So yeah, still too soon to say because of all the work he’s about to begin, and we’ll see how he handles that.”
The Bulls have been in flux at the small forward spot since Dunleavy’s injury, alternating between Tony Snell and Doug McDermott, and experimenting with Nikola Mirotic there in the preseason.
Dunleavy’s defensive awareness has been missed more than his timely shooting, as McDermott is third in the NBA in 3-point shooting percentage, but not many could’ve predicted Dunleavy’s importance would’ve been so critical, considering he turned 35 right before camp.
Whether it’s more an indication of the Bulls’ other inconsistencies remains to be seen, but Hoiberg will certainly welcome back Dunleavy’s stability.
“He means a lot. He means a lot to this team,” Hoiberg said. “He had a great year last year. Look at what he did with analytics, the numbers he had, he was as important as anyone on this team. He’s just a pro. He knows where to be, he’s always going to be in the right spot.”
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Hoiberg has certainly been liberal with his lineups so far in the season, ready to deploy Joakim Noah as a starter in Philadelphia before his left knee flared up on him in warm-ups, so Dunleavy’s return will give him more to play with.
Or at least reduce the dependency on Dunleavy if he struggles defensively or if Snell struggles to make an offensive contribution.
“He brings an element of toughness as well, that guys that have been around the league as long as he has just have instilled in them,” Hoiberg said. “So yeah, we’re looking forward to getting him back, but in the meantime Doug and Tony have been good.”