Commentary

Bulls a winning choice for Dunleavy

With nine playoff games in 11 seasons, veteran excited for chance at title

Updated: October 8, 2013, 4:46 PM ET
By Melissa Isaacson | ESPNChicago.com

DEERFIELD, Ill. -- Maybe it's our collective familiarity with Duke. Or maybe it's that Mike Dunleavy Jr. always looked about 10 years younger than he was. But his age and tenure in the NBA tend to surprise people. Like the dutiful nephew at a family picnic, he rolls with it.

"It's my baby face and just time flies," Dunleavy said recently with an easy smile. "This is my 12th year. As much as people say it has gone by fast, it has gone by even faster for me. To say I'm 33 years old, have this many years under my belt. Where did it go, you know? But it's been a good journey, and I'm excited for the finish."

[+] EnlargeMike Dunleavy
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhMike Dunleavy just missed playing with Luol Deng at Duke by a year but is now teammates with the two-time All-Star.

Not that he is ready to finish anytime soon. Signing with the Bulls in July, the former No. 3 overall pick for Golden State agreed to a two-year, $6.2 million deal despite receiving more lucrative offers.

"Bill Walton always said every day you wake up in the NBA is a great day," Dunleavy said. "But you know what? After 11 years and not being on a winning team, yeah, it's great to a certain extent, but I think it could be a lot better, and when I signed here, obviously that's what I was looking for, an opportunity to play for a great team and play for a great coach and have an opportunity to go all the way."

Playing four and a half seasons for the Indiana Pacers and two with the Milwaukee Bucks after four-plus years with the Warriors, where he ultimately didn't fit into coach Don Nelson's plans, Dunleavy said he had "a ton of respect" for the Bulls while playing in the same division.

"Just the way these guys came in prepared every night, you saw it when you played against them how demanding it is, how challenging it is," Dunleavy said. "It's always one of those things, 'What would it be like to be on the other side?' Here I am now trying to fit in and make the most of it. I'm really happy I'm here."

A member of Duke's 2000-01 national championship team as a sophomore, Dunleavy's teammates included future Bulls Carlos Boozer, Jay Williams and Chris Duhon. Dunleavy also played with Dahntay Jones, who was in camp with the Bulls before being released Tuesday, but just missed Luol Deng, who arrived in Durham, N.C., in 2003, one year after Dunleavy left.

"It's great because there's that familiarity, certainly in the situation now because of Coach Thibodeau and Coach K," Dunleavy said. "There are a lot of similarities there. They're both passionate, they're demanding, they're very similar.

"I think the Duke guys are drawn to it a little bit, and having those guys here like Luol and Carlos who have been here before, we can bounce things off each other and relate to things, so it's good."

Dunleavy

After 11 years and not being on a winning team, yeah, it's great to a certain extent, but I think it could be a lot better, and when I signed here, obviously that's what I was looking for, an opportunity to play for a great team and play for a great coach and have an opportunity to go all the way.

-- Mike Dunleavy

Dunleavy, the son of former NBA player, coach and GM Mike Dunleavy, said the high expectations mentally that Thibodeau places on his players feels familiar.

"The amount of focus that's required to play for Coach K and Coach Thibodeau, that's the biggest similarity," he said. "You have to come in every day and mentally bring it. Forget the physical part. That's a given. But mentally, they expect a lot of you, and you have to turn that brain on when you walk into the gym.

"It's stimulating. For someone like me, it's good to be challenged every day. I like that, I relish that, and it's a big reason I came here."

It is also the big reason the Bulls wanted him.

"I know his dad well," Thibodeau said. "Obviously being in the league a long time, [Mike Jr.] has been around the pro game his whole life, so I think that's a big plus. His dad is a great coach, was a terrific player, and I think he's benefited from that. He's been in an NBA arena since he was a little kid, so I think he understands the game. He's got a great feel for the game."

Dunleavy, a 6-foot-9 swingman whose .428 shooting percentage from 3-point range last season for Milwaukee was a career-best, said he is in his comfort zone coming off the bench and will be a key component there for the Bulls with his size and smarts expected to make up for any one-on-one defensive weaknesses.

"He's huge, man," Derrick Rose said of the Bulls' acquisition. "He's a smart player, a winner. He just hasn't been on a winning team, and for him to come over here, we're fortunate to have him. He's a knockdown shooter. His IQ is unbelievable, playmaking. He can really pass the ball; that's what surprised me the most about him."

"The shooting part is obvious, and he can do that," Thibodeau said, "but his passing is a big plus for us also because whenever you can add passing to your team, it makes everyone better."

Despite playing for his fourth team in 12 years, Dunleavy is hardly complaining.

"For someone growing up and dreaming of being in the NBA, it's been a success," he said. "Coming out of college and being a high draft pick, playing for 12 years, I don't think you can describe that in any negative way. But for me, I'd say the best way to put it is that it's unfinished. I have unfinished business in terms of winning and competing in the playoffs at the highest level, so I think my story is still being written."

Northwestern coach Chris Collins, who was an assistant coach on the Duke staff when Dunleavy played and is the son of former NBA player and coach Doug Collins, said he and Dunleavy shared a bond because of their upbringing.

"We were wired the same way," Collins said. "We both love our fathers and are proud of them, but we're both hungry to create our own legacies and our own names. Mike was so driven and worked so hard to carve out his own niche and be his own man, and I think that helped him along the way to be the hard-driving, motivated player he continues to be.

"I'm so happy he's here. He's had a great career; he just hasn't had that shot to win big. But with the Bulls, he can be himself, play his game, have a big impact and have a chance to win big. He could have made more money as a free agent, but he took less for the great environment, which shows what's important to him. He just wants to fit in, play his role and be part of the team, which is what the Bulls are all about."

The father of a 2-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son, Dunleavy said he watched the Blackhawks' banner ceremony Oct. 1 and can hardly miss those hanging in the Berto Center.

"That's what it's all about," he said. "Having been there once in college, there's not a greater feeling and there's not another feeling you want to get back to and feel again more than that. That's what's driving each and every one of us, and that's why we're here. That's why I'm here for sure. Just trying to enjoy the ride and hopefully end up where we want to be."

Melissa Isaacson

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for espnW.com, ESPN Chicago and ESPN.com. The award-winning writer has covered Chicago sports for most of her 31-year career, including at the Chicago Tribune before joining ESPN in 2009. Isaacson has also covered tennis since 1986.

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