A new era of Bulls basketball begins Monday.
It’s an odd beginning, to be sure. For starters, the franchise employs no head coach. Attendance is voluntary. And it involves daily testing for the novel coronavirus that has created a global pandemic and upended so many normalcies, including the Bulls’ 2019-20 season.
Nevertheless, Monday marks the beginning of the three weeks of activities authorized by the NBA and National Basketball Players Association for the eight teams not invited to the league’s restart in Florida. It’s time for “The Delete Eight,” as The Athletic’s John Hollinger so perfectly dubbed them.
And befitting the player-centric vibe that new executive vice president Artūras Karnišovas and new general manager Marc Eversley are trying to create, attendance is expected to be strong.
To be clear, the Bulls must continue with individual workouts until Sept. 21. That’s when group workouts — finally — are allowed. According to an Aug. 18 joint statement from the NBA and NBPA, these can be “practices, skill or conditioning sessions and intra-squad scrimmages.”
Daily testing for COVID-19 will continue. And in this phase, transportation between the Advocate Center and a downtown hotel will create the “campus-like” conditions that the NBPA demanded to sign off on the activities.
For a team that hasn’t participated in group activities since COVID-19 paused the NBA in March, and ultimately ended their season, this is a significant opportunity. It’s also the first group gathering since Karnišovas fired coach Jim Boylen in August.
Plenty of Bulls — Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Coby White, Otto Porter Jr., to name a few — have worked out at the Advocate Center, individually and voluntarily, throughout the offseason. But, assuming daily COVID-19 testing goes well, Sept. 21 will mark the first time they can take the court for group workouts.
Assistant coaches, including lead assistant Chris Fleming, have been running the voluntary individual workouts throughout the offseason. Fleming worked with Karnišovas in Denver and was one of at least nine known candidates on the interview list for Boylen’s replacement.
With the start date for the 2020-21 season still not set but unlikely before Dec. 25 at the earliest, the Bulls are looking at a minimum of nine months without a regular-season game. That’s unprecedented. It’s also why this opportunity to gather is being viewed so positively by Karnišovas.
“We’re excited to get those activities,” Karnišovas said after last month’s draft lottery. “Players that I talk to, they miss group workouts.”
It’s a start.