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What Bulls being left out of historic NBA restart means for new front office

What Bulls being left out of historic NBA restart means for new front office

Just over two months after “The Last Dance” concluded its five-week hold on a sporting society, the NBA restarted Thursday night, beginning its tenuous march to crowning a 2019-20 champion.

As the Lakers and Clippers engaged in what all hope is a preview of the Western Conference finals, the game brought to mind some of the epic rivalries that played out as “The Last Dance” unspooled. From the Pistons to the Knicks to the Pacers to the Jazz, the Bulls’ six championship seasons featured plenty of foils.

Twenty-two years have passed since the Bulls’ dynasty ended. But watching the NBA resume without the Bulls being a part of it underscored just as large a gulf between what is and what has been.

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As a fan of those Michael Jordan-led teams, Arturas Karnisovas immediately tackled this topic during his introductory news conference upon his April hiring as the Bulls’ executive vice president of basketball operations.

“Our ultimate goal is clearly to bring an NBA championship to the city of Chicago,” Karnisovas said then. “All we can control is our approach and the process behind every decision. A firm foundation is absolutely vital, I'll build that here in Chicago. No skipping steps. There is a systematic approach to success that will be the product of focus and intention, hard work and diligence. We will strive for constant improvement. 

“Chicago is a great sports town with a long, robust sports history. The city is made up of very passionate fans. Earning the enthusiasm and excitement back from the fans is both a challenge and something I very much look forward to. These fans deserve a team that they can be proud of, and my objective is to get us back to relevancy.”

Indeed, sitting at home as one of the eight teams not inside the NBA’s Disney World campus is the definition of irrelevance. There’s plenty of work to do.

The Bulls, like the other teams left out of the party, remain hopeful that plans are soon finalized to allow formal group activities for the “Delete 8.” Talks between the league and players association are centered more now on voluntary group workouts, with perhaps some regional scrimmages against other teams, rather than a second “bubble” scenario.

Karnisovas and new general manager Marc Eversley will take what they can get as they work to try and create a foundation for sustained success. Strong buy-in for voluntary, individual workouts at the Advocate Center is one thing. The ability to hold team practices and scrimmages is another.

In some ways, this offseason has resembled a normal one for a non-playoff team. Karnisovas, Eversley, and the front office and coaching staffs have held plenty of meetings. Draft and free agency preparation has hummed along.

But it’s obviously totally different. For starters, neither new executive could even come to Chicago for months after getting hired because of the global pandemic. Then, their process of implementing their own philosophies — which are heavy on player development — while analyzing the current state of the franchise added another new wrinkle.

For just the third time in 35 years, it’s a new managerial regime in Chicago.

“I will cultivate a selfless attitude with the players and there’s not going to be any excuses,” Karnisovas said in early June, when it became official the Bulls wouldn’t be part of the league’s restart. “The youth, the injuries, all that stuff is not going to be an excuse moving forward. Because this group is too talented not to perform better.”

There was NBA basketball Thursday night. It felt good, even if it felt weird for the Bulls to be one of eight teams not invited to the party.

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NBA, NBPA announce zero positive coronavirus tests from inside Disney bubble

NBA, NBPA announce zero positive coronavirus tests from inside Disney bubble

The NBA received more good news regarding COVID-19 testing in the bubble the day before its restart officially tips off.

Wednesday, the league and NBPA announced that zero of 344 players tested on the Disney campus since July 20 returned confirmed positive tests.


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So, the bubble continues to hold for the time being. That's not to say everything has gone perfectly. Multiple players, including Richaun Holmes and Bruno Caboclo, have accidentally broken quarantine on campus. Lou Williams, out on an excused absence for a family funeral, was photographed at the Magic City strip club in Atlanta, incurring a 10-day quarantine mandate and possibly some financial penalties. There have been positive tests outside of the bubble that delayed some players' arrival, including Russell Westbrook. And there's three months to go.

But the fact that the novel coronavirus has not yet penetrated the bubble is an undeniably positive development. The league's protocols, while not unimpeachable, appear to be working so far.

Meanwhile, MLB's 2020 season has already hit a snag, catalyzed by a COVID-19 outbreak in the Miami Marlins' clubhouse. That led NBPA director Michele Roberts to be questioned on the possibility the NBA could bubble its 2020-21 season, given the increased health risks that playing in home markets and traveling (as MLB is currently doing) come with.

"If tomorrow looks like today, I don't know how we say we can do it differently," Roberts told ESPN's Tim Bontemps. It's been widely reported that the NBA initially targeted December as a starting point for the 2020-21 season, but nothing has been made official on that front as of yet.

The scrimmage round of the 2019-20 restart, at least, has gone off mostly without a hitch. The eight-game seeding phase begins July 30 with a matchup between the New Orleans Pelicans and Utah Jazz.

RELATED: NBA season restart 2020: Schedule for 8-game seeding round for every team 

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Joakim Noah posts solid debut for Clippers in NBA restart’s first scrimmage

Joakim Noah posts solid debut for Clippers in NBA restart’s first scrimmage

The first game of the NBA’s restart experiment, a scrimmage between the Orlando Magic and Los Angeles Clippers, began as all basketball games do. With a tip-off.

Yes, the backdrop of the affair was unusual, and will remain that way for some time. No fans were in attendance for the most highly-anticipated game of the 2019-20 season so far. Reserves sat in slightly spaced-out chairs on the bench. One play-by-play commentator — LA radio announcer Noah Eagle, son of Ian Eagle — manned the microphone, solo, for the NBA TV (FOX Sports LA) simulcast. In bold print, “Black Lives Matter” shone off the far baseline. It all served as a reminder of the unprecedented times the NBA’s return comes amid — of pandemic and protest.

And then the ball was in the air. Joakim Noah and Nikola Vucevic went up, Noah swatted the ball to now-Clipper teammate Reggie Jackson, and the game was underway. It didn’t feel normal. Nothing these days seems to. But, man, NBA basketball was back on television, and it’s hard not to take some small satisfaction from that.

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Another lighter note: Noah didn’t disappoint starting at center in his Clipper debut, and first NBA action since March 23, 2019. He got Los Angeles in the scoring column a minute-and-a-half into the contest with an and-one layup through a ticky-tack foul by Aaron Gordon:

Some things you simply can’t script — including the ensuing missed free throw.

Noah finished the night with four points, five rebounds and three assists in 15 minutes of action. It’s hard to take much away from an exhibition in which the Clippers played without frontcourt fixtures Montrezl Harrell and Ivica Zubac, as well as Patrick Beverley and Landry Shamet. And Jo had his rusty moments. But he moved well for the most part, set waves of wide-elbowed screens and made some nice reads as a passer — two of his three assists came on short-roll darts to Amir Coffey and Marcus Morris for corner 3-pointers. He looked like he belonged.

“Well, he’s an elite passer. We already knew that,” Doc Rivers said postgame, adding to praise he offered Noah after the Clippers’ second practice earlier this month. “What I loved was his screening and rolling.”

Rivers was also quick to highlight the value in Noah’s stabilizing presence as a decision-maker, especially adapting to a role he’s not accustomed to.

“You know, he is so used to coming towards the ball and getting the ball, we’re asking him to do something totally different, and that’s screen-and-roll more,” Rivers said. “So he’s still getting used to it, but today I thought he did a great job. And he’s also starting to notice a bit the more talent we have on the floor, the more they’re going to double-team. And you give him the ball in the middle of the paint, he’s just a great decision-maker.”

On top of it all, we got a couple hot-mic screams off rebounds (though ambient trash talk generally underwhelmed), a possible LeBron jab and Noah extended a Clippers possession late in the second quarter scrapping for a contested board on the baseline. Staples.

The rest of gameplay went about as well as one could expect. There were sporadic defensive breakdowns and fumbled passes. Without spectatorial buzz to buffer on-court sound, rims rattled a little louder and sneakers squeaked a smidge sharper. Piped in chants caught the ear at first, and eventually blended into the background. The general feel, though, was that of a basketball game.

Paul George looked outstanding commanding the Clippers offense, and Lou Williams chased down 22 points-worth of buckets. Williams and Rivers both noted postgame the extra energy manufactured from the bench in the absence of fans. The Clippers won 99-90. It's a start.

“The games are the games,” Rivers said. “Once you get between the lines, you could make a case that’s probably as comfortable as the players will ever be, or as normal as everything will ever be. Because once they get between the lines, it’s a basketball game.

“I think you can see that. You can see the rust and all that. But for them, they were back in their natural habitat.”

Health willing, scrimmage games will march on through July 28, and the seeding phase from July 30 - Aug. 14. A 16-team playoff from there. We’ll be watching.

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