Veteran Mike Dunleavy is up to the minutes Bulls have asked him to play

BY JOE COWLEY jcowley@suntimes.com

March 1, 2014 11:28PM

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Updated: April 3, 2014 7:05AM

This wasn’t the plan.

When Mike Dunleavy signed a free-agent deal with the Bulls in the summer, he did so under the premise of sitting back at the start of games to admire Derrick Rose, coming off the bench for 20-some minutes, stroking a couple of threes, slamming a Gatorade and calling it a night.

“Look, I came here to do anything I could to help this team win,’’ Dunleavy said. “But I probably didn’t have this in my imagination.’’

What’s “this?’’ How about 38 minutes on Feb. 19 at Toronto? Or 48 minutes in Atlanta on Tuesday? And the 42 in Dallas on Friday?

Maybe that’s why sharpshooter Jimmer Fredette, a former first-round pick, will join the team.

No, this wasn’t the plan, but at age 33, Dunleavy is embracing ­every minute of it.

“Like I said, this isn’t what I thought, but I still have that goal of trying to do anything to help this team win,’’ Dunleavy said. “It’s been a fun journey, I’ve enjoyed it and hopefully it’s just beginning.’’

Even when Rose was lost for the season Nov. 22, there was a model for how Dunleavy was ­being used. He averaged 25.3 minutes and 8.2 points that first month and shot 43 percent from the three-point line.

That was long before the Bulls became short-handed. The loss of Rose, compounded by Jimmy Butler and Carlos Boozer missing games with bumps and bruises, and then the trade of Luol Deng to the Cavaliers, turned Dunleavy into a starter.

He finished February averaging 35.5 minutes and scoring 11.5 points. His three-point shooting has dipped because of the workload, sitting at 34.4 percent over the last 13 games.

Dunleavy insisted he’s holding up physically and doing so even better than he would have thought.

“I prepare every season pretty hard, I work out in the summer, prepare myself to play a lot of minutes even though I don’t expect to,’’ Dunleavy said when asked if he still had two months of high-intensity basketball left in him. “So I guess we’ll find out. But I feel pretty good.’’

And don’t think he’s not appreciated. His teammates know that his role has changed, and they believe they’re a better team for it.

“Man, he’s super important, spreading the floor,’’ Butler said. “That [guy] can shoot. He makes a lot of plays for everybody because you can’t help off of guys. He shoots it with confidence, he finds open guys, and the thing that people really don’t notice is he rebounds the hell out of the ball.

“You appreciate him more when you play with him. I mean, I had to guard him when he was in Milwaukee, so when you have a guy like that on your team you like that because the defense is going to have to step out, and that leaves a lot of open shots.’’

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com

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