Denzel Valentine always had the ball, making plays for teammates, running offense, helping and producing as the college player of the year at Michigan State. It wasn’t happening much that way as a Bulls rookie, so he adjusted. The team needed three-point shooting. So Valentine decided he had to become a three-point shooter, stand in the corner, shoot.
“I think that was part of my role this year,” Valentine acknowledged after his Saturday post season meeting with management in the Advocate Center.
But Valentine also saw a need for what he brought his college team, the way he learned the game, what he did, albeit in summer league, for the Bulls. Make plays, handle the ball, run a team. Another point guard? It’s certainly a team need.
“I wouldn't call it a position, but next year, this summer, I'm going to work on guarding point guards every day,” said Valentine. “If I can play the point some more we can be more versatile and I can be more versatile out there on the floor. Having the ball in my hands, making plays, being a playmaker, shooting the ball and doing things like that. As far as being the two and three, I've played that all year this year. I've kind of taken on that role, so as far as handling the ball and playmaking, which is probably one of the best things I'm good at, that's a big thing for this offseason.”
The Bulls certainly would welcome that and perhaps welcome back Valentine after a rookie season marred by several ankle injuries. He averaged 5.1 points playing in 57 games and played just 22 minutes total in four playoff games. But he says now it’s just about moving forward.
“I think we all are on the same page and that is a good thing,” said the 6-6, first round pick from last year. “What came out of the meeting was that our thoughts were similar with what happened this year and what I want to accomplish and what we want to accomplish next year. That next year (they) plan on me being a big contributor to the team, being one of those main guys, accepting my leadership role even more and just being a guy they can depend on.
“Everything happens for a reason, being in and out of the lineup, having good games, everything I went through,” Valentine said. “Early in the year, everything that went on with my ankle injuries and stuff, those are things I can't control. I think for the most part I control everything I control for the better. So just have to take this momentum into next year. We made the playoffs and we got a playoff bonus or whatever. It is what it is. You can't worry about what happened in the past; all you can worry about is what you can control in the future. That's working hard and trying to be a leader and being that major contributor for next year.”
Valentine viewed it all as sort of a rookie hazing.
“Yeah it definitely was confusing,” he said about long periods out of the playing rotation. “We talked about that a little bit. But like I said, that's all over with, clean slate next year. It was kind of difficult with handling that, being in the rotation, not being in; when I go in there, handling the ball, then not handling the ball. So it was a lot of things that were thrown at us this year.
“I try not to get too up or down about things that happened,” said Valentine. “You have to come to work and handle things professionally. If I stay faithful and keep working, then if it works out, it works out. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t and wasn’t meant to be. But I can’t come into work mad or lash out. That’s nonsense. You have to handle things the right way.”
Like that infamous January fallout. It wasn’t the way you’d plan it, but Valentine said that January blowout with charges and Instagrams, actually, was a great help to the team and especially helped relationships with Dwyane Wade, Jimmy Butler and Rajon Rondo.
“It definitely needed to happen,” said Valentine. “At that point of our season, it was either we were going to let things keep happening because at that point we were so up and down it was crazy. Something needed to happen. Rondo being the leader he is, he did what he had to do. It worked for the better for us. It may not have happened in the best way with everybody being in our business. But it happened for a reason. From that point on, we hit our stride to make the playoffs. I go on Instagram and I’m like, ‘Whoa.’ I think Jimmy and D-Wade and Rondo’s relationship strengthened because of that. That’s an odd way of saying it because you would think they would grow apart. But I think it helped us out. We had a meeting and everybody really just vented out their feelings. From that point on, it was a clean slate.
“He (Rondo) was going to stand up for what he felt was right,” said Valentine. “I respect him a lot for that. He already had a bad rep in this league. For him to go out and do that and put himself on the line, that shows his true character to me and how much of a leader and a people person he is. He cares about his teammates that much that he’s willing to put himself on the line.”
Rondo had a family issue occur and was excused from Saturday's meetings.
And now Valentine says it’s his time to get in line.
“Playmaking and handling the ball, that’s what I’m best at,” Valentine said. “It was sort of confusing with me just standing over in the corner sometimes just shooting.”
Then he laughed when asked if he was told to do so.
“That was pretty much the only option unless you want me to go over there and take the ball from somebody,” he said. “Go over and steal the ball from Jimmy, nah.”
Perhaps the Bulls are getting some more things straightened out in their meetings.