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Mike Dunleavy inching toward a return, but won't be pressured

PORTLAND – There would seemingly be very few lessons left for Mike Dunleavy to learn after 14 years in the NBA.

Check that: Never mix pain medicines and announced timetables at the same time.

It was back on the opening day of training camp in late September – just a day after Dunleavy, 35, had an unforeseen back surgery – that the Bulls brass came out and put a return date of somewhere in that neighborhood of eight-to-10 weeks.

Dunleavy sat there and listened, saying very little about it.

This week, however, he had plenty to say.

“No, no, not at all,’’ Dunleavy said, when asked if he’s feeling the pressure from the organization to return within that timeframe. “I feel like the original timetable, and I probably should have clarified it with the team when they announced it, but I was so hopped-up on meds – it was right after my surgery – but look, the timetable they released I think was really a return to basketball activity, so that’s like running, shooting, practicing.

“It really wasn’t a return to being able to play in an NBA game, so that being said, I think everything is kind of in line. I’m on the right pace and everything. We just don’t know when that will be.’’

Clarity is coming.

According to both coach Fred Hoiberg and Dunleavy, the plan was for the small forward to pick up his activity with the team on the current Circus Trip, and then revisit with doctors this week to get a better idea of where he stands.

And a standing Dunleavy is much better for the team than a sitting one.

While Tony Snell and Doug McDermott have had some good moments filling in for the veteran they have also had some struggles (Snell was shooting just 29 percent from the field in November, while McDermott’s defense was still an issue). In other words, Dunleavy’s team defense, consistent shot-making, and rebounding have been missed. Even Dunleavy was anxious to return, just to see how he will function in Hoiberg’s up-tempo offense.

“You picture where you can fit in and all that,’’ Dunleavy said. “That’s just the way it works. I’m looking forward to getting back out there, but as far as … you know you just go through a myriad of emotions of wanting to be out there, there’s a frustration, there’s just the I’m tired of sitting out and all that stuff. But just got to be patient with it and let it all ride out.’’

If he gets the thumbs up from the doctor, the hope would he could start scrimmaging with the team and getting his legs built up, especially since he hasn’t played basketball since the Bulls were eliminated from the playoffs last May.

That means don’t expect to see Dunleavy until at least mid-December, considering how much time he’s missed from a conditioning standpoint. The other consideration? The team re-signed the then-free agent this past summer, giving him $14.4 million over three years. The last thing they need is a veteran hampered by back problems over that time.

“It’s hard to kind of pinpoint a time or a day,’’ Dunleavy said. “A lot of it is how I feel along the way in the progression. You know, with rehab there’s ups and downs, and you just got to make sure I get myself fully right and not get overanxious, try and come back a little sooner than I should.’’

This time said with a clearer head.