The Bulls’ primary press conference last week on the day the moratorium ended was for the official signing of Jimmy Butler to a maximum level contract worth about $95 million over five years.
You conduct a major press conference when your player is expected to perform like an All-Star and all-NBA player, as the one time 30th pick in the draft now is as among the highest paid players in the NBA.
Mike Dunleavy, who turns 35 in September, probably will not make as much money in his entire career. But Dunleavy’s return is perhaps as vital because the 6-9 veteran forward quietly was the Bulls best three-point shooter last season. And then in the playoffs, Dunleavy was by far the Bulls most reliable shooter, which is especially important for a team that will be looking more to shooting threes this season.
Particularly as the Bulls starting backcourt of Derrick Rose and Butler is relatively undistinguished as long distance shooters.
“I think I always knew what I was capable of,” said Dunleavy, who agreed to a three-year deal worth about $14.5 million. “I’m pretty versatile, can play a bunch of different roles. I knew that coming in. Maybe I proved that to other people. But the big thing for me was not having a lot of playoff experience coming in and the last two years getting to the playoffs, this year to the second round. It just reassures me I like being in the fire, in the moment, when it all counts. When things are on the line I’m very comfortable and those are things I am looking forward to as we move forward. Hopefully some deep playoff runs.
“I’m open to whatever role they want me to play,” said Dunleavy, who likely will remain a starter with second year pro Doug McDermott getting his first significant playing time as a backup. “The most important thing to me is the other R word, and that’s ring. I’m open to whatever they want me to do. I feel we’ll have a good style of play. I know my teammates pretty well and have that comfort level. So I’m just happy with whatever I can do to help.”
Dunleavy averaged 9.4 points and 3.9 rebounds last season on a team best 40.7 percent three-point shooting. But numbers rarely tell the complete story with a player like Dunleavy, who passes and moves well, creating opportunities for others on offense. When Dunleavy missed 19 games with an ankle problem—after playing in all 82 games for the Bulls in 2013-14—the Bulls were 9-10. With Dunleavy playing, they were 41-22.
Plus, Dunleavy then excelled in the playoffs. He was the high scorer with 20 points and four of six threes in the best game the Bulls played in the playoffs, the Game 6 win in Milwaukee. Dunleavy shot 54.8 percent on threes against the Bucks or the Bulls may have lost that series. Overall in the two rounds, he shot 46.2 percent on threes and averaged 10.9 points, four rebounds and 2.6 assists. Dunleavy had been in the playoffs twice in his 11 seasons before signing with the Bulls in 2013. But in his first playoff with the Bulls, his 35 points and eight of 10 threes were in the only game the Bulls won in the 2014 playoffs against the Wizards.
It was uncertain whether the Bulls could resign Dunleavy after last season with the big contract required to retain All-Star Butler. Plus, top teams like Cleveland were making inquires to get his three-point shooting abilities.
“I had some flattering (contacts), but for the most part I was dealing with the Bulls,” said Dunleavy. “And sure enough they came through on the first of July and held true to their word (indicating during last season they hoped he’d return) and we were able to get a fair deal done.”
Dunleavy probably could have shopped around for more money in an exploding NBA marketplace where role players like Alan Anderson signed for $4 million and Amir Johnson for $12 million. Dunleavy likewise took less than the Bucks offered to resign him in 2013 to be in a stronger playoff position with the Bulls. And even with the Bulls quiet in free agency other than retaining their players, Dunleavy says he’s both comfortable with what he felt was a fair and straightforward negotiation and optimistic about the Bulls’ playoff chances.
“I think we have a chance to have a really good team that competes at the highest level,” Dunleavy said. “I know my teammates. I know what I’m getting into as opposed to the other options, the unknown. I think my skill set and knowledge and things I bring to the table…is needed on the roster. So I think it works for both sides; it appeals to me and appeals to them.
“First and foremost the level of talent,” Dunleavy said about his confidence in the team. “We have a very good, deep talented roster; secondly, we are a resilient, tough group. We’ve shown that over the years. No matter what happens, what type of adversity, guys hang in there. We fight, we claw and you need that type of grit to get to a championship level. Hopefully everybody feels locked in and comfortable in their situations.
“I’m excited for Derrick not having to deal with a summer of rehab and questions and all that,” said Dunleavy. “I think he’ll be in a great place mentally to start the season and physically. I think he’s doing great. It’s great to have Jimmy back. Jo (Noah) will be healthy. There are so many things heading in the right direction, which is encouraging.
“Also, everyone gets along,” said Dunleavy, dismissing talk of friction. “It’s just a matter of, at times, making it work on the court. Having that synergy, particularly on the offensive end, knowing where you are supposed to be, getting to spots, playing together, flowing through an offense. I’m optimistic about that. I think we have some work to do, but I think we can get to where we need to be.
“I think offensively we’ll look to flow more and get into stuff quicker and play a little bit more freely, less structured,” Dunleavy predicted. “But that all develops over the course of the season. I’m sure Fred (Hoiberg, coach) will feel it out and see what’s best for our roster and we’ll go from there. Basically the biggest thing (toward returning) was my relationship with my teammates. This is the first team I’ve been on where I’ve felt the true bond with guys where every night you are going out there, there is a unity. I haven’t necessarily felt that before throughout my career. Also being in Chicago, being a Bull and playing for one of the great franchises in all of sports that can’t be underestimated. That was a huge part of my decision in coming back.”
And while there was initial uncertainly about Butler’s contract desires and a later move to add Aaron Brooks, Dunleavy said negotiations with the Bulls went smoothly.
“I really enjoyed my first two years (with the Bulls), though it was very way different than I and most expected,” Dunleavy said with a laugh. “I think it went pretty well for me personally and I grew comfortable with the organization, my teammates, the city. From the time the season ended my thoughts were returning to the team and wanting to be back as long as we could make it work. The front office was super open about it. They made me feel wanted and made me feel part of this team and we were able to work something out. I’m thankful but also excited about coming back for another couple of years.
“My outlook didn’t change,” said Dunleavy. “Be prepared for anything. That’s how it was the first time around. A lot of people thought I was going to play 18 to 20 minutes a night and lo and behold things changed. It’s my same outlook coming back for another couple of years.”
Dunleavy also knows he’ll be counted on as a mentor for McDermott, and Dunleavy welcomes the role.
“I’m excited for Doug,” Dunleavy said. “He had a tough go his rookie year as a lot of guys do. Getting a good summer underneath him and coming back with confidence will help. I saw him in practice his rookie year and I had high expectations for him. He’s a really, really good basketball player and I’m sure he was frustrated he didn’t get to show it that much last year. I look forward to helping him and playing along side him. I’m very excited for Doug’s future. My role is helping this team win. That’s the biggest thing for me.
I’m open to anything. I just want to win.”