The newest addition to the Bulls has bounced around the league a bit since entering the NBA in 2002, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“I’m used to the travel and used to moving around. It’s been less of an adjustment for me and probably more so for my wife and kids. Growing up in that environment, my dad was a coach [former NBA player and coach Mike Dunleavy Sr.],” Mike Dunleavy Jr. explained Wednesday at his introductory press conference at the Berto Center. “I’ve seen a lot of things in the locker room, on the court, through the coaching. So I have a feel for everything. I have a good idea what’s going on and hopefully that will make my transition easier, having seen so much.”
Having been a frequent opponent of the Bulls with Central Division rivals Indiana and his most recent team, Milwaukee, Dunleavy was not only pleased to become a member of the Bulls, he’s very familiar with the team.
“Obviously I’m very excited, it’s a great opportunity. I just feel like this situation with this organization assures you a chance to win, it’s a perfect one for me. Needless to say, I’m excited to be here and I look forward to get the ball rolling,” the veteran swingman explained. ”I don’t foresee a big adjustment. I know the way they play. I watched a lot of their games, played against them a lot. It’s a lot of the basic fundamentals. They just do it better than everyone else. I expect to fit right in and I’m excited to be in a system that has such definitive rules and guidelines. I think it will help everyone defend better.
“I think anytime you play against a team, you envision yourself, ‘How would I fit on this team?’ I envisioned this team, but not as much as it came to fruition in free agency. It was almost like I was pleasantly surprised that it worked out with the Bulls. I just thought that, ‘I played with the Pacers, I played for the Bucks, there’s no way I’m going to play with another team in the Central Division,’” joked the third overall pick in the 2002 NBA Draft. “So I decided that this is going to work out. We’ll do this and hopefully, if I’m lucky, I’ll finish off with Detroit and Cleveland and complete the whole round.”
Dunleavy, who began his professional career with Golden State, was a highly-coveted free agent after averaging 10.5 points per game off the bench for the Bucks last season, including shooting almost 43 percent from three-point range. According to a league source, he was offered upward of the full mid-level exception from rival suitors, but opted to sign a two-year, approximately $6-million deal with the Bulls—the “mini” mid-level exception—to come to Chicago.
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“It was flattering, the interest I received. At the end of the day, I kind of put myself in the different situations out there. This one was just far and away seemed to fit me the most. I definitely sensed a feel from them that they really wanted me, felt like they needed me and we came to an agreement pretty quickly,” Dunleavy said about the process, which saw him agree to terms with the Bulls on the first day of NBA free agency. “You never know until the clock strikes and who reaches out and who doesn’t. It was nice to speak to them on that first day. I spoke to them in the morning and things moved pretty quickly and we were able to come to a verbal agreement.
“They just reached out by phone, [Bulls general manager Gar Forman] and Thibs. I missed the call. I think I was changing my son’s diapers. Bad time to be doing that, but I got back to them and we had a nice long conversation. I spoke to them separately and we had good dialogue. I was just in contact with my agent [Arn Tellem] throughout the day and had some flattering conversations with other teams. Again, picturing myself in every situation, [the Bulls] just seemed to be the best,” he continued. “Being in the Central Division the last few years, we played against these guys a lot in the regular season and I’ve gotten a pretty good feel for their team overall. Obviously, I have a tremendous amount of respect for the way they go about things and that starts with Coach Thibs. I’ve had some great dialogue with him early on in the recruiting process in free agency. Things move real fast and I just felt like it was a situation with him as coach and the players they have here; it was just too good to turn down.
“We talked about their overall beliefs, philosophies and things like that. Then we went into me specifically, just the things that I can bring to the team as far shooting, ball movement, ball-handling, playmaking on the offensive end. Defensively, as a team defender, I’m going to always be in the right spot. I’m going to be there to help guys. Whatever the philosophies and things that are established, I’m going to be doing that. I think it’s a really good fit for me. I think we have the same vision for how I can fit in here. I think it will be a good deal,” the 11-year veteran added. “This became a no-brainer for me, especially with where I’m at in my career, my age, what I’m looking for, just peace of mind and happiness. The years and money became less relevant. The situation and culture was the most important and that’s why I choose here.
“Certainly knowing their level of interest right away was big. There’s a lot of teams that reach out to you right away, there’s a feeling out process. But I just sensed with Chicago, that it was no holds barred: ‘We really want you, you’re going to be a great fit.’ I felt the same way and I kind of thought about all the other situations that were out there and might come up, and I just figured that nothing was going to be better than this. Financial stuff aside, this was the best situation for me and it made my decision quick and easy.”
Dunleavy is represented by Wasserman Media Group, the same agency as Bulls superstar Derrick Rose, and the sharpshooter admitted that the prospect of getting easy spot-up opportunities via the former league MVP’s ability to penetrate crossed his mind.
“It was a big factor, obviously. With him, the last two years when healthy, they’ve had the best record in the league and it’s kind of like the sky’s the limit. It sounds like he’s on pace to get back and ready to go. You add everybody else in the mix, I think we’ve got a good deep team and we have high expectations for the season,” said Dunleavy, who didn’t talk to Rose during the process. “We have the same agent so I was kind of kept up to date. It sounds like he’s doing great and all. I didn’t really talk to any players, just kind of kept to management and communicated that way. I think that’s probably the way to go about it and came to an agreement that way.”
The 6-foot-9 small forward is even more familiar with another player on the team, college teammate Carlos Boozer. The pair, along with former Bulls point guard Jason Williams, won the 2001 NCAA national championship while at Duke, also the school All-Star small forward Luol Deng attended.
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“Carlos is here, I’ve talked to him. I’ve talked to some of the other guys on the team. It’s good to be reunited with Carlos 11 years later. It’s been a long layoff, but I’m looking forward to playing with him and the rest of the guys,” he said. “Hopefully they can put up with us. I think for the most part we’ll be good guys, but come tournament time, we’ll be talking a lot of trash. In the meantime, we’ll mind our business.
“Looking back on last year specifically, I thought he had a great year,” he went on to say about the much-maligned Bulls power forward. “Anytime you come into a new environment, there’s changes and whatnot and their maybe an adjustment period, but last year, he had a terrific season. He provides a great low-post presence for the team.”
Dunleavy, a high school All-American in Portland while his father was coaching the Trail Blazers, understands that he was brought on primarily to help address the Bulls’ outside-shooting needs, but he’s more versatile than his reputation and his versatility gives the team some options.
“I think with positional need, they were looking for a wing player that could stretch the floor and have my skill set. You start with that and you throw on top the culture they have here, the tradition and certainly the coaching staff and the players. I know a few of the players, a couple of guys went to Duke. I’ve just gotten to know some of the guys over the years and it just seem like the ideal thing for me to come and join and be a part of,” he explained. “I think the versatility I have, I can play two, three and four, but we have a lot of guys that can do that with Luol and Jimmy [Butler]. We have a lot of versatility so it’s pretty interchangeable and I think you want to have that flexibility in today’s game.
“I think as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become a better shooter. That’s just with practice, knowing how to get your shots a little bit better, taking good shots. I feel like I’m becoming better shooter. Hopefully that trend continues to move forward and I think with this team with the way guys pass and move the ball, hopefully, It will be even more looks,” Dunleavy continued. “I think I can get it off coming off screens. Moving without the ball is certainly one of my strengths and I think in this day and age in the league, you have guys that can knock down shots and you have to be able to have guys that can knock down shots and close out, get by people and make plays. I think I can do that. It’s one of my strengths and hopefully I’ll be able to help the team out that way.”
One of the more underrated reserves in the league last season, Dunleavy’s experience will also help to fortify the Bulls’ second unit.
“Obviously we’ll have to get our chemistry down, but I think we got a good, solid group of veteran guys that know what’s going on out there. My experience coming off the bench with teams,” he explained. “I’ve been on some pretty good benches, where you come in and you have an impact on the game. If the starters get you down, you have full confidence we’ll get you back in and vice versa. I think in this day and age, with the depth that teams have, it’s important to have a strong bench. Aside from having injuries, just on a nightly basis to have that as a weapon, I think it’s something you see here.”
But more than anything else, Dunleavy, who has only played in nine NBA playoff games, saw an opportunity to experience the chance to be on a true title contender for the first time in his career.
“That was definitely a big part of it. Weeding through the different suitors, I definitely wanted to be on a team that has a chance to play into May and June and I think this team, barring injuries and things that happen, I think we have a chance to do it,” he said. "I’m comfortable with the career I’ve had. But with me, it’s all about winning and I haven’t been on many winning teams, if any. So this is a major priority for me to be on a team like this that has a chance to win. It’s certainly what I was looking for coming from a college in Duke, where every night you go out and expect to win every game and then you get in the pros and been through a lot of mediocrity. To be a part of this is special. I don’t take it for granted. I don’t think the losing has ever had an impact on me, in terms of my approach to the game. It hasn’t changed my habits. So hopefully I’ll be able to jump right in with this team, even though I’ve been on a bunch of losing teams."
“There’s not a lot of teams where you feel strongly in that regard about. But I think with this team, barring injuries and everything else, this is a team that will fight, scrap and win.”