The Bulls had a sweaty old guy running through sets with the second unit after Monday’s shootaround, and he went through his battery of shots well after everyone departed the Advocate Center in preparation for the game against the Miami Heat.
No, Mike Dunleavy won’t play but he’s miles away from the quietly-asked question of whether his back would allow him to play this season, now going through practices with the team and a season debut on the horizon.
“Lately it's going well. I'm practicing with the team,” Dunleavy said. “I'm closer, feeling a lot better. Hope to be out there soon.”
“Soon” is a relative term, as he would only say he expects to be on the floor in February, but Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said Dunleavy will go through a contact practice Tuesday and will travel on the west coast trip that begins Thursday.
“(We’ll) kind of put him in a controlled type situation with some of the guys and coaches,” Hoiberg said. “Get him out running our stuff in a controlled scrimmage type way. He will travel on this trip and hopefully practice with our team.”
Hoiberg said a return date is “still too early to determine” but with the way his team has been struggling, they hope Dunleavy’s return could stabilize the small forward spot in a way Tony Snell and Doug McDermott have been unable to do through 42 games.
Dunleavy isn’t the athletic, youthful wing the Bulls have been looking for in the trade market but when they were at their best last year, having a veteran who knew where to be and who shot 41 percent from three was a piece in the puzzle—a piece that ‘s likely depended on too much this time around, but is still needed.
But just getting to this point where a return appears certain is a victory, with his back injury leading to all types of questions. But Dunleavy said he’s not concerned about any setbacks, such as the one he suffered a month or so ago, causing him to shut down all basketball activity for 4-6 weeks.
“The back feels great. It's mostly conditioning, rhythm, timing,” Dunleavy said. “I haven't played a game since May. There's kind of a readjustment and getting back in the swing of things. But overall I feel really good.”
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Sitting on the bench has been torturous, as one can expect with this level of inactivity for this length of time. Dunleavy’s back had been acting up for some time in the offseason, with surgery as the last option. But he didn’t undergo with a procedure on his back until the first days of training camp.
“It's been awful, from a personal standpoint,” Dunleavy said. “I feel mostly bad for the organization, my teammates, coaches, just not being there for them. Somebody who considers himself reliable and someone you can count on, not being able to be there is the biggest thing for me. Looking forward to being out there and being with the guys and contributing.”
Dunleavy has seen the up and down play but has downplayed his tangible value to what he can bring, although a veteran presence can be invaluable considering the pieces who’ve had trouble producing anything on a consistent basis.
“Whatever a wily 35-year old can add,” he joked. “People are gonna say shooting but to me, I haven't thought much about that. it's a lot of the little things. Things that make a difference, getting back on defense, setting screens, moving without the ball. The little things that contribute to winning, that kind of make me valuable. Hopefully I can bring that and have an impact.”