Coby White faced live contact after the Chicago Bulls' Sunday afternoon practice, a sign that the third-year guard is nearing a return from the shoulder injury he has been rehabilitating since June.
As other members of the team got shots up following a film session, White participated in a full-court, 5-on-5 scrimmage with Bulls player development staffers, plus Troy Brown Jr., Alize Johnson and Tyler Cook. White began undergoing controlled contact with player development staffers last week, and still has yet to be cleared to fully return to practice, but the free-flowing run, which featured fewer restrictions on his usage, was a step forward.
"He's moving closer and closer to getting to a point where he's going to be cleared to practice," Billy Donovan told NBC Sports Chicago. "He's getting a chance to do obviously more contact. I'd like to see him against our guys."
It was a film-heavy practice day for the Bulls, who lost to the Philadelphia 76ers 114-105 at home on Saturday night. But if there had been team-wide scrimmaging, Donovan said he thinks White could have been a partial participant. While still uncommitted to a precise return timeline, Donovan added the Bulls plan for White to travel with the team on its upcoming West Coast road trip, which begins Nov. 12 at Golden State and ends Nov. 19 at Denver.
"I really think that he's pretty close to getting ready to get back to practice. He's close," Donovan reiterated. "I think he's got enough confidence in his shoulder. His shoulder strength is fine for him to do this (face live contact) right now."
White underwent surgery to repair his left labrum on June 10. In past NBA cases, such an injury typically carried a four-to-six month recovery timeline — Raptors forward Pascal Siakam, for example, is making his return to game action Sunday roughly five months after also undergoing labrum surgery in early June.
While White's ultimate return timetable will rely on his physical response upon returning to practice, the Bulls sorely miss him in the rotation. Through nine games, the Bulls rank dead last in the NBA in bench scoring (23.8 points per game) and 29th in bench 3-pointers made per game (2.2). White, who averaged 15.1 points and shot 35.9 percent from 3-point range in a predominately-starting role last season, projects to offer an extra dose of firepower.
"The one thing he brings to our team is he brings shooting, especially if he’s coming off the bench with that second unit (where) we can use some extra shooting," Donovan told reporters last week. "He’ll really kind of boost that group with having another scorer out there.
"I want him going back to doing the things that have made him who he is. I just don’t know what that looks like. He’s missed the entire summer, he’s missed all of training camp, however many days it is of regular practices, and now he’s in an NBA game. I’m not 100 percent sure of what that’s going to look like, in fairness to him. But I do want his playmaking, his creativity, be aggressive and I’m obviously looking at a point of where he was at the end of last year hoping he can get to that place this year."
White closed the 2020-21 season strong after a rocky beginning, averaging 17.6 points, 5.9 assists and shooting 40.3 percent from 3-point range in the final 18 games after being reinserted into the starting lineup.
Now, Lonzo Ball is the team's well-paid starting point guard, shifting White's role to reserve sparkplug. Just before the Advocate Center cleared out Sunday afternoon, Ball and White underwent screen-and-roll ball-handling and finishing drills together.
"He just started coming back to do team things so obviously we gonna start getting (him) into the fold. These last couple days we've been linked up together and that's always a good thing," Ball said of White. "His mental is in a good spot right now. Obviously he wanted to start the year and we wanted him to start the year with us. But things happen, and he's taken the necessary time he needs to take to be ready to play a full NBA game. When he comes back, he's gonna jump right in and not miss a beat."
The Bulls certainly hope so.