Billy Donovan provided updates on four players that have been away from the team due to COVID-19 protocols as the Bulls prepared to wrap a four-game West Coast road trip against the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday.
Chandler Hutchison, Tomáš Satoranský, Lauri Markkanen and Ryan Arcidiacono were all last active for the Bulls' Dec. 29 victory over the Washington Wizards. All entered the league’s health and safety protocol before a Dec. 31 rematch in Washington D.C., with it later being revealed that Hutchison and Satoranský tested positive for COVID-19. Markkanen and Arcidiacono entered protocol after being deemed close contacts, and have returned negative tests since.
Hutchison, in fact, is still in Washington D.C., according to Donovan. He’s expected to travel back to Chicago soon.
“There was a period of time there that I think [Hutchison] was really struggling with the way he felt, I think he's doing a lot better now,” said Donovan. “We should have everybody back in Chicago by the time that we get back.”
Of Markkanen and Arcidiacono, who remain in protocol, Donovan said: “Hopefully they will be able to rejoin us when we get back into town after [Sunday’s] game (against the Clippers).”
In the interim, Donovan added that the Bulls have included the absentees on team Zoom calls to allow them to keep engaged and “feel like they're in the locker room and a part of it.” The mental toll of extended quarantine periods, and the constraints of traveling during a pandemic, is something to which the team is adjusting.
“There's nothing normal,” Donovan said. “Guys are pretty much just locked up in their rooms, there's very very little anybody can do. The days are long for these guys. It's just a lot different.”
Donovan has never made availability excuses in relation to protocols. Every team in the league is grappling with this new reality, as he’s noted on multiple occasions.
That truth resonates now more than ever, as new cases and quarantine mandates crop up across the NBA in bunches. The Boston Celtics, for example, visit the Bulls on Tuesday, and will field just eight players for their Sunday matchup with the Miami Heat after reported positive tests for Jayson Tatum and Robert Williams, and multiple contact tracing quarantines.
Editor's note: Since this piece was published, Sunday's game between the Celtics and Heat was postponed, per The Athletic's Shams Charania.
“Everybody's trying really hard to make sure they're trying to keep each other safe,” Donovan said. “But inevitably with the travel and with family and with being around people, you're still in a position where someone can test positive, and then obviously you've got contact tracing and then how much that impacts the rest of the group.”
The Bulls’ current four-game road swing has seen stops in Portland, Ore. Sacramento, Calif. and now a multiple-day stay in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Department of Public Health reported 16,982 new coronavirus cases Saturday, a day that featured a light practice for the Bulls sandwiched between bouts with the Lakers and Clippers.
“This has been probably one of the more difficult cities that we’ve been in so far, [Los Angeles]. And rightfully so,” Donovan said. “The hotels here have done a great job of trying to keep everybody safe. Just for example, even for staffing, being able to go to a workout facility. The other places we had you could kind of go into a room. It was set up for our staff, our organization.
“Here in this (Los Angeles) hotel, you basically have to be assigned a block of about 55 minutes. They don’t want more than one person in there at one time. So it’s been pretty restrictive here in [Los Angeles], and rightfully so. The recommendations by everybody has been stay inside, stay in your room. Like I said earlier, that’s been a lot for these guys to deal with and handle. But you could definitely feel the tightness here more so than maybe some of the other places we’ve been to at this point and time.’’
Donovan acknowledged that the league’s “baseball series” approach to road trips that feature longer stops in cities has had some benefit in allowing recovery time for players.
Still, with routines aplenty interrupted -- as Donovan said, for good reason -- the Bulls have had to get creative.
“It’s been a lot more difficult because there’s really nothing else to do other than stay in your room. Guys obviously in a normal season would be in their rooms, but sometimes guys can break up the day a little bit,” Donovan said. “We’re even concerned organizationally of trying to break up the day by taking the guys to a team dinner or taking the guys somewhere, because you just worry about bringing groups of people together. So we’re just trying to do the best job we can to try and keep each other safe.
“That piece of it, the travel piece of it is nice. But the other part of it is being on the road is long. It’s a lot of long days.’