Mike Dunleavy Jr. | Match Game
By Conrad Theodore | Posted 11.07.2013
Imagine earning a nice, big salary and months of vacation time but not being the least bit happy about your situation. That’s the feeling Mike Dunleavy, Jr. says he's experienced nearly every summer for the last decade. “You turn on the TV and you see a bunch of teams playing for a championship but you’re at home, sitting on the couch watching,” explains Dunleavy. “It can be depressing.”
(Bill Smith/Chicago Bulls)
Now with an ever widening smile on his face, the 6'9" forward claims he's finally discovered a cure for his yearly bout of Summertime Blues: He’s signed a contract with the Chicago Bulls. Yes, there were a number of teams interested in Dunleavy's talents when the free agent market tipped-off on July 1—and truth be told, he could've made a heftier salary elsewhere—but that was not Dunleavy's primary focus. To put it another way, in his 11 years as a pro, Mike Dunleavy, Jr., has had the opportunity to play in only two playoff series, for a grand total of nine games. Of course getting into the playoffs is never a given for any team, but when just about every franchise you’ve been a part of has lost more games than they’ve won, it's understandable that priorities can change.
“Being in that position has made me want to win even more, now. That’s why signing with the Bulls was so appealing,” says Dunleavy. “A lot of teams reached out but with Chicago it was no holds barred—they wouldn't take 'no' for an answer. They were convinced, and they convinced me, that I’d be a great fit on the Bulls. I did have a few other opportunities but the more I thought about Chicago, the more I felt this was the right move. Financial stuff aside, becoming a Bull was potentially the most rewarding opportunity I had, so it really didn't take long for me to ask, 'Where do I sign?'"
Thanks in large part to an upbringing immersed in the NBA life, Dunleavy appeared to pick up the game of basketball quickly and easily. His father, Mike Dunleavy, Sr., spent nearly three decades playing and then coaching in the league. In fact, the Bulls captured their first NBA Championship in 1991, when they defeated Los Angeles in five games, and Dunleavy, Sr., was in his first year as head coach of the Magic Johnson-led Lakers that season.
A couple of years later Dunleavy, Sr. moved on to coach the Milwaukee Bucks, where Mike Jr. began to attend high school. During that time the family had a steadfast rule: no Bucks games for young Mike on school nights. Other than that, he could practically live at the team's practice facility or go to games on the weekend. “Every chance I got, I would be out on the floor with the guys and I wouldn't leave until they would kick me off,” recalls the newest Bull. “That [experience] was a great way to learn the ins and outs [of the game].”
When his father accepted the head coaching position with the Trail Blazers in 1997, the family rerouted to Portland just before Mike Jr.'s senior year. Not only did the younger Dunleavy continue to soak up every bit of basketball know-how his dad could provide, he applied his polished awareness in leading his new high school team to the Oregon state championship.
The following year he packed his bags and headed east to further his basketball education under the guidance of legendary college coach Mike Krzyzewski at Duke University. Thanks to Coach K, Dunleavy was able to continue building his game.
“Coach K prepares you for everything. You learn how to deal with success and also how to cope with failure,” explains Dunleavy. “There were times he believed in me more than I believed in myself. He can be tough and demanding. He pushes you to reach your potential, but his players know he'll treat you fairly and he's always going to be supportive. I don't know of anyone who hasn't loved playing for him. There’s no question in my mind that I wouldn’t be the player I am today if it weren’t for Coach K and the rest of the [coaching] staff at Duke.”
In return for his special education, Dunleavy, along with teammates Shane Battier, Chris Duhon, Jay Williams and Carlos Boozer, presented Coach K with a special thank-you gift—the 2001 NCAA National Championship. Only a sophomore that season, Dunleavy was the Blue Devils' leading scoring in the title game, posting 21 points, including nailing three clutch 3-pointers during a decisive 11-2 run early in the second half to help break open the game, in which Duke defeated Arizona, 82-72. By the end of his junior year, Dunleavy felt the time was right to toss his name into the NBA Draft. After all, he averaged 17 points a game that season, and earned first-team All-ACC, and All-ACC All-Defensive team honors. Dunleavy received the ultimate reward when the Golden State Warriors made him the third overall pick in the 2002 Draft.
Certainly thrilled to be in the NBA, Dunleavy reflects that within the first six weeks of his rookie season, he began to feel he might have made a mistake by leaving Duke early because he quickly found himself enrolled in the School of Hard Knocks. You see, the rebuilding Warriors had collected more losses during that stretch than Dunleavy had experienced in three years under Coach K. And even though he has put up some impressive numbers in every season as a pro, collectively, the teams Dunleavy has played on haven’t fared as well. In fact, it took nine long seasons before he enjoyed his first taste of the playoffs.
Hopefully losing will become a distant memory this season as Dunleavy reteams with a close friend and former college teammate, Carlos Boozer. “It feels great to be reunited with Carlos, even though it took 11 years for it to happen,” Dunleavy says with a laugh.
As much as he enjoys his mini-college reunion, Dunleavy doesn't hesitate to say another draw about signing with Chicago was the chance to connect with a new and improved Derrick Rose. “That, obviously was also a major factor,” he adds with a nod.
“During the last couple of years when Derrick was healthy, the Bulls had the best record in the league. When he's playing, it’s kind of like the sky’s the limit. Then when you add everybody else into the mix, Carlos (Boozer), Luol (Deng), Joakim (Noah), Taj (Gibson), Jimmy (Butler) and Kirk (Hinrich), I think we’ve got a really talented and deep team that can contend for a championship.”
The Bulls certainly have the same high hopes for Dunleavy, who turned 33 in mid-September, especially for what he provides from the three-point line. After shooting a career-best 42.8 percent from the arc last season with Milwaukee, Dunleavy should fill a major void in Chicago's offensive attack, as the Bulls finished tied for 20th in the league from distance last year. “Mike was a top priority from the second free agency began and we're confident that he'll prove to be an excellent fit for us—both on and off the floor,” explains Bulls General Manager Gar Forman.
Dunleavy laughs when recalling that he missed Forman’s initial phone call right after the clock struck midnight on the first day of free agency. The reason he missed Forman's call was because he was busy changing his son’s diaper in another room and couldn't come to the phone. But after being told Chicago had just called, he hurried to get back in touch with Forman, and the recruiting process moved quickly from there. Dunleavy says he also spoke to Bulls Head Coach Tom Thibodeau on the first day and afterwards began to feel comfortable that he’d mesh nicely with the Bulls’ defensive style.
“I don’t foresee playing all-out defense to be a big adjustment, because I believe I already have a very good understanding of how Coach Thibs likes his team to play,” insists Dunleavy. “Being with Indiana and Milwaukee the last few years and having to go up against the Bulls a lot has given me an appreciation for what Thibs likes to do. The Bulls [defense] execute a lot of the fundamentals, and they do it better than everybody else. That's why they have been so good the last few years.”
While Dunleavy has always been considered one of the league’s top shooters, he claims that his shot is a work in progress. “I think as I’ve gotten older I have become a better shooter. Experience is certainly a key factor, knowing how to get your shot off, really understanding the difference between what is a good shot and what is a bad shot,” says Dunleavy. “Hopefully that trend continues, and I think with this team, one that’s made up of guys who are unselfish and like to share the ball, and with Derrick attacking the hoop, I’ll get more good looks at the rim this season than I have in the past.”
(Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images)
When Dunleavy’s number is called, his role will be to come off the bench and provide a spark by knocking down three-pointers and creating extra space on the floor for Rose to maneuver. “I was so jazzed to hear Mike was joining our team. He’s the perfect fit—even though he’s another Dukie,” laughs Joakim Noah.
“In this day and age in the NBA it’s very important to have a strong bench,” says Dunleavy. “Early on there may be a few ups and downs because we'll need to get used to each other and build good chemistry, but we have a very good, solid veteran group of guys on the team who know what’s going on. I really don't think it'll take long for us to come together.”
In addition to Dunleavy’s perimeter shooting, he is also considered a very capable and willing passer who sees the entire court and looks for the open man. As a student of the game, he was well aware of Chicago's biggest offseason need: a wing player who can help stretch the floor. “That’s what I do best,” states Dunleavy regarding his long distance marksmanship.
“You start with the team's needs and throw in what Thibs brings to the table as coach, then add the competitive culture that has been created along with the rich tradition that has been established over the years, and it really wasn't a tough decision for me to sign a contract with Chicago. The more I thought about the idea, the more comfortable I felt. This seems like the perfect opportunity for me to be a part of something special.”
For now and the rest of his career, Dunleavy says he only has one thing on his mind: winning. “I’m happy with the career I’ve had, but the biggest thing that’s missing is winning. Coming from Duke where every night you expect to come out on top, and then moving onto the NBA, where I’ve played 11 years now, and experiencing a lot of mediocrity, well, that wears on you. So I look at being a Bull as something special. I'm not going to take this opportunity for granted.”
With any luck, and plenty of hard work in the coming months, Mike Dunleavy, Jr. should be able to cut his vacation time considerably shorter next summer.