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Mike Dunleavy inches closer to a return and Fred Hoiberg can’t wait

The eye test is one thing for Fred Hoiberg.

The first-year coach used the summer to go back and watch the film on Mike Dunleavy, seeing just how important the veteran small forward was to the Bulls lineup.

But then factor in the numbers, including the most important ones – a 9-10 record last season when Dunleavy didn’t play, and a 5-3 record this season without the 35-year-old.

No wonder the coach was excited by the progress being made on Wednesday.

Dunleavy had back surgery right before the start of training camp, with an initial timetable of eight-to-10 weeks for recovery. And while Dunleavy insisted that he wouldn’t be listening to any team-imposed timetables, the fact that he was out shooting during the afternoon practice at the Advocate Center was good for everybody.

“He’s getting closer to getting back out there on the floor,’’ Hoiberg said of Dunleavy. “He did a tempo run [Tuesday], all in a straight line as of right now. Hopefully in the next few days, he’ll be cleared to start cutting. Right now is about building his strength back up. He’s been in the weight room for I think five days. [Tuesday] was an off-day for him after getting his load back up pretty good, and now the next step is getting back full movement, which hopefully will happen within the next week.’’

Dunleavy said the plan was to have Dunleavy on the Circus Trip next week, continue getting his conditioning up, and while December is now more realistic, just see “how he handles that.’’

What Hoiberg wasn’t vague about was what Dunleavy will do for this roster when he returns. Not only the starters, but the likes of Doug McDermott and Tony Snell, who have picked up the vacancy.

“He means a lot to this team,’’ Hoiberg said. “He had a great year last year. Look at what he did with analytics, the numbers he had, he was as important as anyone on this team.

“He’s just a pro. He knows where to be, he’s always going to be in the right spot. He’s going to know the game plan and space the floor, knock down shots. He brings an element of toughness as well, that guys that have been around the league as long as he has just have instilled in them, so yeah, we’re looking forward to getting him back, but in the meantime Doug and Tony have been good.’’

Noah’s knee

Joakim Noah, and his surgically-repaired left knee, were held out of the Wednesday practice, after Noah was a late-scratch in the Monday win in Philadelphia.

Noah had the knee repaired after the 2013-14 season, and was dealing with issues with it all of last year.

According to Hoiberg, the hope was Noah would be able to practice Thursday, and play Friday when the Bulls host Charlotte.

D-League update

The Bulls finally announced that they were granted the right to own and operate an NBA D-League team in Hoffman Estates, which will begin play in the 2016-17 season.

“Establishing an expansion NBA Development League franchise is a significant step forward for the organization,” Michael Reisndorf, President and COO of the Bulls, said. “We continuously look for opportunities to promote the game of basketball, extend the reach of the Bulls brand and deepen our integration with our surrounding communities.’’

Speaking in a press conference, general manager Gar Forman talked about how much it will help the young players in the organization, able to practice with the regular roster in the day and then play a D-League at night.