TORONTO — It’s amazing how two to four weeks for a sprained medial collateral ligament can turn into six weeks and potentially the rest of the season.
Call it the economics of basketball.
The Bulls offered a vague update Sunday on guard Kris Dunn’s right knee injury, but there’s a reality they must face. If he’s sidelined until March and the playoffs remain a pipe dream, Dunn and his camp could opt to shut it down for the season.
Dunn will be a restricted free agent this offseason and looking to get his first real payday coming off his rookie contract. So why should he mess with an MCL that can only get worse?
Coach Jim Boylen doesn’t think that will be a factor.
“I don’t talk to [Dunn] about that,’’ Boylen said. “I think we both come from the school of kind of no-nonsense. Control the things we can control. That will play itself out. I just want to let him know that we’re supporting him, care for him. He means more to this team than the impact he has on the floor. He’s great in the video room. He’s great on the practice floor. In the meal room, he has a group of guys he sits with, and there’s always laughter coming from the table. Those things are important to a team. We’ll miss that.’’
The Dunn situation was becoming complicated. But with the injury, even more layers have been added.
It took a few years, but the Bulls have regained an identity. Sure, the defense-first mentality is not even close to what it was under former coach Tom Thibodeau, but at least Boylen has turned it into something.
The problem is that Dunn is the heartbeat of that identity. His defense on the perimeter has been “all-defensive,’’ according to Boylen, and he’s also a solid voice in the locker room.
Like they always seem to do, the Bulls undoubtedly will let the market set the price on Dunn, and then they’ll have the opportunity to match it or let him walk.
If Dunn falls in that $8 million-to $10 million-per-year mark, the Bulls likely will match it. But if it goes beyond $10 million, that could spell the end.
While the Bulls know everything about Dunn, there’s a hope that others will get healthy by March so the team can see how Dunn works with Otto Porter and Thaddeus Young, among others.
But if Dunn and his camp decide the risk vs. reward is too great, that’s all out the window.
“I think Kris Dunn was having an all-defensive season and a great season,’’ Boylen said.
Losing Dunn was an obvious setback, but the news is better for other injured players.
Rookie Daniel Gafford returned to the rotation Sunday after missing the last few weeks with a dislocated right thumb.
Porter (left foot fracture) started shooting for the first time on this road trip, while Lauri Markkanen (right pelvis) also took shots in practice Saturday.
Second-year big man Wendell Carter Jr. was expected to be back by now, but his injured right ankle is taking a bit longer than expected, keeping him out of the Rising Stars Game during All-Star Weekend.
If the Bulls can keep their heads above water and stay within striking distance of the Nets for the No. 8 spot come March, it could be an interesting final six weeks.