David Sherman/NBAE/Getty Images
Two great pros
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.
A team is a collection of individuals. A good team really is an organism, a collection of functioning parts working together and depending on one another that enables it to perform the processes that can lead to greatness.
There are the parts that get the most attention, like the brain, the heart, the elements most discussed, protected and considered ultimately responsible for success. But they cannot function without those less discussed but every bit as necessary, the Hinrich and the Dunleavy, for example, in the case of the structure of the Bulls.
“Two great pros,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “Tough minded, give you everything they have. Both of those guys are great pros. When you have young guys like we do, that’s the best kind of leadership you can have. They come in every day, they practice hard, they execute. Do all the right things.”
Thibodeau had offered the usual updates on Derrick Rose and now Pau Gasol, both out in the big comeback victory over the Clippers Monday and questionable Thursday in the TNT national game in Sacramento. There aren’t such big updates about Hinrich and Dunleavy. They come, play and go home. Neither speaks with reporters much, though they usually aren’t asked.
“One of the reasons I came here was to be part of a group winning a lot games,” said Dunleavy, who had 19 points against the Clippers and two threes down the stretch to shut off a late comeback. “I don’t care about the other stuff. Media needs me to answer questions, I’m happy to do it. But as far as I’m concerned, I like to show up, do my job and go home.”
It’s another reason why any team striving for ultimate success is fortunate to have players like Dunleavy and Hinrich, the latter also with four three pointers Monday and a stifling defensive job against star Clippers guard Chris Paul. Every team requires certain players for different, unglamorous roles. But it’s more than that with the Bulls. With a demanding coach like Thibodeau who stresses relentless defensive attention and preparation, character can be just as important as talent. It’s then incumbent on management to find the right players who will not back down from a challenge, but who also will not yield when the pressure and demands are intense, who are committed to the group and the goal with their sacrifice.
Like Dunleavy and Hinrich. Both, obviously, are respected pros who’ve had long NBA careers. But it’s also been their commitment to the Bulls. Both signed contracts well below offers from other teams to remain with the Bulls, Hinrich even accepting less than the Bulls original offer last summer when they asked him to renegotiate down so they would have enough money to sign Gasol.
Hinrich is never mentioned in recruiting visits; but he did more to make Bulls free agency a success perhaps more than anyone else on the team.
“I felt like we had a chance to be really good,” said Hinrich, who most embodies the characteristics of uncompromising play and loyalty of Mr. Bull, Jerry Sloan. “I love playing with these guys. I’m comfortable. It’s something at this point in my career when you have a choice to play where you want to play that’s what you value. What’s best is where you are going to enjoy (playing), where you think you have the best chance to be successful and this is it for me.”
It’s been the same for Dunleavy, who like Hinrich had expected to be a reserve but has emerged for two years mostly as a starter.
Last season, Hinrich came on after Rose was hurt in November and started and has been back in that role again with Rose’s ankle sprains and hamstring injury. Dunleavy came into the starting lineup when Luol Deng was traded for future cap room, which was to be used to recruit Carmelo Anthony. Who then would have displaced Dunleavy, who probably would have been traded to acquire salary cap space to sign Anthony. Though Dunleavy accepted less money to sign with the Bulls last season, he says he understood the team was doing what it had to do. He preferred to remain with the Bulls, but he wasn’t about to get in the way of the team improving.
He knows he’s no Carmelo Anthony, but Dunleavy is averaging 11.5 points and shooting 40 percent on threes while showing versatility as the Bulls often use him to play a form of point forward, which he did with success against the Clippers Monday.
“Mike’s the consummate pro,” said Thibideau. “Whatever role you ask him to fulfill he’s going to do it; he plays for the team. You can play him off the bench, start him, short minutes, long minutes; it doesn’t take him a lot to get going. He’s a basketball player; whatever is called for that’s what he’s going to do. I thought he hit big shots in the fourth quarter for us. He can pass, make big plays, he moves the ball; sometimes you just need to move the ball from side to side. He gets that done. It’s not reflected in assists, but it gives you movement and he moves extremely well without the ball. When you have guys like Jo and Pau, they’ll take advantage of that.”
And not only did the Bulls pursue small forward Anthony, but they drafted small forward Doug McDermott. Yet, Dunleavy and Hinrich are the only starters to play every game and Dunleavy is third overall in minutes, just 21 total behind Jimmy Butler.
“I just looked at it come in ready for anything,” said Dunleavy, who laughed with mild surprise when reporters came to talk to him before Tuesday’s practice. “That’s how I looked at it last year because good thing I did. The way it turned out I ended up playing a lot more minutes than anyone expected. Same goes for this year. I learned from last year to be ready. I’m comfortable in whatever role they throw me in. I think I can be a helpful and productive player for this team. It’s just a matter of having that mindset from the beginning of the season, which I’ve had.”
Dunleavy now is in his 13th season, one of those players every coach and organization treasurers, but who they give up at some point for bigger names. They generally regret it, like an old boyfriend or girlfriend you don’t appreciate quite as much until they are gone. Though never spectacular and often considered too slow, Dunleavy has a reputation around the NBA as a tough player you don’t get physical with because, like Hinrich, he doesn’t back down.
Dunleavy famously engaged with Kings center DeMarcus Cousins in the Bulls big loss in Sacramento last season with Cousins calling Dunleavy a clown.
Hinrich tends to have more that foaming at the mouth look, while the laconic Dunleavy perhaps offers a wry smile with the hard elbow. Dunleavy’s survived the expectations of a third overall draft pick to save a franchise to serious knee surgery that was supposed to end his career almost six years ago. But as the injuries have grown around the Bulls again, he’s quietly produced, averaging 14 points and five rebounds the last six games and this season has had at least three three pointers in a game five times in the 8-3 start. Just going about his business.
“It (wasn’t) really anything for me to deal with (the Anthony recruitment),” said Dunleavy, who grew up an NBA brat traveling with his coaching father through Los Angeles, Portland and Milwaukee. “Just getting myself ready to play in an NBA season. I felt pretty strong I’d be back with the Bulls. But if I wasn’t, I’d be ready to play wherever I was. That whole situation didn’t change my preparation. It wasn’t very stressful for me. I didn’t lose much sleep. I just knew I’d be playing basketball somewhere.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Dunleavy continued, “I love being here. If I wasn’t here I’d be disappointed. Growing up around this league you learn not to worry about the stuff you can’t control. That was a scenario out of my hands. If you’ve had the experience I’ve had, seen a lot of different situations all you can do is worry about yourself. When you are here and around the team then you worry about the team. From my standpoint, I don’t let the stuff around affect me. I try to go out and do my job and everything else will fall into place.”
Players like Dunleavy are the crucial elements to team building you hear about. Everyone understands the need for stars. The difference often is the players who can complement them and enhance what they do. It’s much more difficult than it sounds, which is why players like Dunleavy become so valuable even if the only highlight they’re ever in is when they are walking out of the arena behind Joakim Noah.
“My thing is this team is all about winning,” said Dunleavy of playing with the Bulls. “So there are nights where I am going to be utilized more; great. There are nights I won’t be; I understand that. There are other things I can do. At the end of the game as long as we won and are on top of the scoreboard that’s the main thing.”
There’s drama with the Bulls. With injuries, mostly. You never hear it about playing time, lack of leadership, shot distribution or any of the petty issues that often come up around sports. You need pros to win; not just famous guys.
“We’ve got a lot of options, a lot of weapons on this team,” noted Dunleavy. “There are some plays we have, options we have especially when there are smaller people on me, especially so Derrick can be guarded by a bigger guy.”
The Bulls don’t run a lot of plays for Dunleavy. So seeing the matchup advantage he had on J.J. Redick against the Clippers Monday, Dunleavy took advantage and it turned the game around in that crucial second quarter run that gave the Bulls momentum.
“I’m just honed in on this year,” said Dunleavy, who’ll be a free agent this summer. “This is a special group of guys; we’ve got a chance to do something really great. I’m not looking much past Sacramento Thursday, to be honest with you.”
You can see a lot of reasons why Thibs values the guy. As so many coaches around the league do.