Denzel Valentine in the weight room

Denzel Valentine looks ahead after sitting out the 2018-19 season

"I'm fully confident I'll come back and have an impact. That's the type of person I am." - Denzel Valentine

Denzel Valentine, remember him? It really did look like the 2016 late lottery pick from Michigan State might be a star. It could be argued no one with the Bulls in the last three years has made more clutch plays in the same game than Denzel Valentine, his face up three first creating overtime for the 2016 Summer League championship and then winning it at the buzzer with a step back jumper.

Yes, it was just Summer League, but some pretty good NBA players were in the tournament and even Bobby Portis on the Bulls side. But it was rookie Valentine who took over and made the plays.

Denzel Valentine at Summer League in Las Vegas

And then it was essentially three years of relative inactivity amidst changing rotations in an injury sandwich, Valentine finally succumbing and missing all last season with ankle surgery.

But Valentine has been cleared to resume full basketball activities, and he has a warning and a promise.

"I'm not worried; I'm fully confident I'll come back and have an impact," Valentine said in an interview when the Bulls regular season concluded. "That's the type of person I am. I'll train hard this summer and see where next year takes me. I really haven't been fully healthy (since that Summer League). I was at the beginning of last year, but then had a setback at the end (arthroscopic knee surgery). This will be the first time I'll be able to be fully healthy.

"The NBA," said Valentine, "has not yet seen a fully healthy me."

A healthy Valentine would be a gift to the heart of the Bulls bench woes for next season. It's unlikely Valentine would be a starter with Zach LaVine and Otto Porter Jr. on the roster. But the 6-6 Michigan Stater who was national player of the year and the nation's most decorated senior is an astute playmaker and excellent three-point shooter. He could fill an important role as an alternative playmaker off the bench with the likes of Chandler Hutchison and even Kris Dunn depending on the team's additions in free agency and the draft.

"I'm not worried; I'm fully confident I'll come back and have an impact." - Denzel Valentine

Valentine isn't a top athlete, but he fits the kind of profile of a savvy player like the Brooklyn Nets' Jared Dudley providing leadership, shooting and playmaking.

"I can help with my shooting, definitely my playmaking ability," said Valentine. "Also on the defensive end guarding multiple positions, another competitor, a leader, a lot of things I feel I can fit in on the court. Especially sitting out and knowing where I can fit in is exciting to me.

"Whether first unit or second unit, being secondary ball handler, shooter, someone who'll come in and make the game easier for everyone else," said Valentine. "I don't think there is a player like me on the team, which is exciting for me because I see where I can fit in and help the team. I'm excited I got to see Zach get better, Lauri (Markkanen) get better, Otto come in. We kind of grew a lot toward the end of the season. So if I can slide right in and fill some of the missing pieces we need, I feel that will be huge."

Valentine, Blakeney and Harrison on the bench

It would be a positive development for the Bulls, and especially Valentine in his star crossed pro career.

Following that fabulous Summer League finish, he was sentenced when he played to stand in the corner and wait for Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade or Rajon Rondo to make a play during his rookie season. Then in his first big playing time in January with regulars sidelined, he made five three pointers against the Washington Wizards. But he sprained his ankle and missed 10 of the next 13 games. He had a regular role last season, averaging 10.2 points and shooting 39 percent on threes before ending the season prematurely with the knee procedure. Then he never could get past his longtime ankle problems in training camp last fall and eventually opted for surgery and ended up missing the entire 2018-19 season.

"I feel we have a lot of great pieces. We just have to come in healthy. And if we come in healthy, I feel we'll be ready to go and make some noise in the Eastern Conference." - Denzel Valentine

"When I went to see the specialist mid-November, that's when it kind of hit me I was going to have to sit out," Valentine related. "Obviously, it was a setback because I feel I improved last season from my rookie season. But the way I looked at it is this has finally given me time to get completely heathy from injuries here and there pretty much since I've been a professional. I've been going through a lot, so this has given me a full year to get healthy. I'm excited to be healthy again and recover.

"It's my faith in God (that's kept me going)," Valentine said. "He works it out. Sometimes He does things you don't know why He is doing, but you have to have faith and look at the bright side. I'm in the NBA, I have a year on my contract and after a full year getting healthy I'll be able to get stronger and learn from this year and go full (speed) next year.

Denzel Valentine in the weight room

"It is tough," he said about spending a season as a spectator. "You're not so much left out, but you are kind of like a ghost. Obviously, it was a bummer not being able to do what you love to do, what I've been doing every day my whole life since I was five years old. To not be able to do that for a year affected me. But it really went by so fast and I'm excited to get back training and with this team.

"I think we have a really deep roster," said Valentine. "We have seven first round picks and then whoever we get (in the draft). I feel we have a lot of great pieces. We just have to come in healthy. And if we come in healthy, I feel we'll be ready to go and make some noise in the Eastern Conference. I definitely think we can be a surprise team."

And perhaps an eye opener to the rest of the NBA with the return of Denzel Valentine.

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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