Mike Dunleavy isn’t the face of the Bulls. But in some respects his season of injury and disappointment mirrored the fate of the Bulls, who Wednesday close the 2015-16 season in the United Center against the Philadelphia 76ers.
The Bulls will not be in the playoffs. On the whole, rather playing Philadelphia at this time of the season looked like an advantage when the schedule first came out.
Now the Bulls will be trying to finish 42-40 against a 10-win 76ers team. Then will come the post season analysis and scrutiny of what went wrong and why and what can and perhaps will be done about it. There is months for that surprise package to unwrap with the Bulls back in the draft lottery for the first time since choosing Derrick Rose in 2008. The Bulls would get the Sacramento pick if it is 11-30 in the first round. The Kings currently are tied for the 8-10 spot with Denver and Milwaukee. The Kings close the season in Houston, which still is trying to get into the playoffs. The Bucks host the Pacers and the Nuggets are in Portland.
The Bulls have plenty of their own questions still to resolve with this unexpected season, and it will require examination and consideration.
“I think it’s a little bit of everything (with emotions),” said Dunleavy. “But mostly disappointment. Just to be where we are at, very disappointing. It’s the worst not playing for anything. Come out (Wednesday), be professional, try to win and perform. But it leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Watching those first playoff games the weekend of the 16th is going to be tough. I don’t think it’s what anybody was hoping for, but you get what you deserve, I guess.”
If the Bulls win Wednesday, the two games over .500 season is just three games poorer than 2012-13 when Rose was out injured, but the team had fewer injuries than this season. Last season, 42 wins would have been good enough for sixth in the Eastern Conference, though little to brag about. Still, it’s been a surprise to all the players to be on the outside when they were talking a few months back about perhaps competing for a championship.
“So complicated what happened this season,” said Dunleavy. “It’s a lot of stuff; it’s hard to pinpoint one thing. I’ve spent many a night tossing and turning and thinking about it; it’s hard to pinpoint an answer.”
It’s been a comparably confusing, disappointing and unexpected season for Dunleavy as well, though recovery from back surgery and being out until just before the All-Star game played a large part. But the first part of the Bulls season felt like a bad back at times as well with head scratching losses, blown opportunities and frequent miscommunication.
Dunleavy never quite had the impact or got involved like he’d hoped and imagined, the veteran guy regarded for his positives with chemistry never truly finding a role or place with this ever changing, evolving and regressing Bulls team.
Dunleavy goes into the last game of the season off his first double digit scoring game in nine games and second since March 7. His season average of 7.2 points per game is his fewest since his rookie year in 2002-03. His assist average total also equals his rookie season low; his rebounds are his least since his rookie year. His 41 percent shooting ties his lowest since 2008-09.
“Obviously, I hated missing the games earlier in the season, but I got my back right,” Dunleavy said. “I felt good when I came back; still feel good. Obviously, I would have liked to have been more involved. But it is what it is. We didn’t get the job done. So, like I said, disappointed in not being able to compete in the tournament.”
Like the Bulls, Dunleavy never could quite get going this season. He had some good games, but they were followed by lesser ones. Dunleavy’s six field goal attempts per game were the fewest since his rookie year. He never quite found a place in the cross between trying to change the pace of the game and players unaccustomed or resistant to the alterations amidst changing rotations and lineups that had the prime starting lineup with Dunleavy together six games.
“We’ve got to get better, got to improve,” said Dunleavy, who has one more fully guaranteed season on his contract. “Somehow, someway find a way to get a lot better. That’s the way you look at it. I think everybody individually work on their games and those that are back have to make sure there is a new approach, new attitude, and hopefully have better results.”
The potential personnel changes and decisions will be much debated these next few months with all sorts of possibilities. Teams that miss the playoffs don’t have many players who cannot be traded. Dunleavy, a 6-9 forward, understands that even as he took less money to sign with the Bulls originally in 2013 because of the playoff potential.
“I think we have to improve more collectively than we do individually,” Dunleavy said. “How that happens, that’s above my pay grade. I’m not sure on that. We’ve got to be more cohesive, play better together, bring out the most in each other, do a better job of that. On the defensive end of the floor there are some things we can do and be more consistent with and I feel confident we can get that done. On the offensive end, it’s a little more worrisome making all the parts work; we’ll see what happens.
“My body feels great after the back issue,” Dunleavy said. “I’m excited to have a summer ahead of me where I can work on strength, conditioning, basketball skills, that type of stuff. I’m 35 going on 36, but I feel great. I feel I have a lot of years ahead of me. Just continue to keep my body right and continue to do what I do and bring positives to a team.”
It’s a laudable goal all around for a recovery from this disappointing time.