Nuance prevailed over numbers.
Technically, the Chicago Bulls have the league-mandated eight players in advance of Tuesday’ now-postponed home game against the Detroit Pistons. They actually might’ve fielded up to 10 if Coby White and Javonte Green received clearance from the NBA’s health and safety protocols.
But with the Bulls producing more positive COVID-19 cases daily — Alize Johnson’s Monday test raised their number of sidelined players to 10 — there’s no guarantee that number wouldn’t change. And whereas previously, the league focused on number of bodies — not which bodies — were available, four of the Bulls’ available eight were two-way players in Devon Dotson and Tyler Cook; a rookie shuttling back-and-forth between the G League in Marko Simonović and a hardship exception signing in Alfonzo McKinnie.
The NBA did the right thing Monday in announcing its first two postponements of the NBA season. The Bulls’ road game at the Toronto Raptors on Thursday also will be rescheduled.
If you want to quibble, you could wonder why the announcement didn’t come Sunday, when the Bulls’ ridiculous situation reached nine players in protocols. But ultimately, from a competitive disadvantage, common sense and public health standpoint, the league arrived at the right place.
The official league statement even acknowledged “additional staff members” in the health and safety protocols. Get well soon, Stacey King and Bill Wennington.
This likely will be a tricky winter for the NBA to navigate. The Omicron variant is adding a troubling wrinkle to the global pandemic at a time the world is weary.
Billion-dollar business or not, the NBA isn’t immune to the world’s issues.
On the one hand, the league doesn’t want to start sliding down the slippery slope that led to 31 postponements in a shortened 2020-21 season. On the other, they need to keep competitive balance.
This always proved the Bulls’ frustration throughout this process. Since White first tested positive, the Bulls have been testing daily. When the positive cases began increasing, sometimes they’d test more than once a day.
Coach Billy Donovan has said publicly that several players in the protocols are asymptomatic. Nikola Vučević added that many players have received booster shots on top of the Bulls’ fully vaccinated status.
Who’s to say other teams aren’t using players with undetected cases that simply aren’t being caught because they’re not subjected to daily testing like the Bulls?
Add in the fact that the testing regimen and onslaught of positive cases has limited team activities such as practices and shootarounds, and it’s easy to make the case that the Bulls were playing at a competitive disadvantage. For instance, the Bulls have canceled their last four game-day shootarounds and couldn’t hold a formal Monday practice, typically a formality in advance of a game and following an off day.
That doesn’t even take into account the heavy minutes players like Zach LaVine — before he entered protocols on Sunday — and Lonzo Ball logged in light of the team’s shorthandedness. Or the strain on Alex Caruso, who returned Saturday from a hamstring injury and is still not 100 percent.
The Bulls now don’t play until the Lakers visit the United Center on Sunday. The pause will allow players to exit the league’s health and safety protocols and hopefully slow further spread. A source confirmed an ESPN report that the Chicago Department of Public Health’s support for the Bulls’ appeal was considered.
Coincidentally, the United Center will be dark for consecutive nights. The NHL announced Monday’s game featuring the Calgary Flames and Chicago Blackhawks is postponed after the Flames had six players and one staff member enter that league’s COVID-19 protocol within a 24-hour period.
The Flames reportedly didn’t travel to Chicago. If the Bulls had flown to Toronto for Thursday’s now-postponed game, they could have been subjected to random tests at the border per that country’s policy, and a positive result could’ve resulted in a quarantine stay before returning to the United States.
Instead, common sense prevailed. And the Bulls are staying home. That’s always where it’s best to get healthy.