Bulls Insider

Bulls' excused absences stand out against COVID-19 backdrop


Noah Vonleh landed on the injury report that is released by the NBA every evening.

“Not with team” is all it said.

Before the Bulls’ 104-91 victory over the Rockets Sunday night at the United Center, coach Billy Donovan elaborated -- kind of.

“The only thing I can say on Noah is he’s in NBA protocol right now,” Donovan said. “That’s all I can really respond to on that until we find out more.”

When the game started, Ryan Arcidiacono took Tomáš Satoranský’s regular rotational turn. A quick check of the Bulls’ bench revealed no Satoranský on it.

“Excused absence” is all the Bulls’ public relations staff could say.

Same with reserve center Luke Kornet and two-way guard Devon Dotson, both of whom didn’t attend the game.

Everybody knew this was going to be an unprecedented NBA season because of COVID-19. Nobody knows if the Bulls are already dealing with a potential widespread outbreak.

What’s certain is there’s a lot of gray area in terms of testing, test results, possible exposure via teammates or family members and on and on and on.

Excused absences don’t for sure mean positive COVID-19 tests. But more often than not, they will mean players are in the NBA protocol.

Perhaps there’s an inconclusive test result. Perhaps a player reported potential exposure via a family member or contact tracing prompted precautionary measures. Perhaps there’s a positive test and another test is needed to ensure it’s not a false positive.

“We’ve got to stay flexible. We’ve got to be able to absorb and handle anything that’s thrown at us, because there’s going to be disruption. And when there’s disruption, what you have to have is guys who are engaged,” said Donovan, who added some of the information came before the game while the team was at the arena. “These guys have done a good job. It’s going to be a crazy time and a crazy season with what we’re all dealing with now. From game to game, day to day, your team is going to change. Guys can be in different roles. Guys may have to learn a different position. It’s going to be hard. There may not be a lot of continuity. But you just have to try to do the best you can.”

Garrett Temple is the only confirmed COVID-19 positive on the Bulls, a fact he chose to reveal last week.

To be clear, nobody is saying Vonleh, Satoranský, Dotson or Kornet are positive and keeping it quiet. It’s just instructive to know that teams don’t have to confirm individual player positives, just general cases.

And at least late Sunday night, that number stood at just one in Temple.

“Hoping these guys are safe and they can get back to the team soon,” Zach LaVine said. “Obviously, you're going to be concerned because somebody come down with it in the locker room and you don’t want it to spread. There's locker room talk too so we're not going to shy away from it. It's something that we're going to have to deal with from now on, so it's going to be something new.

Added Lauri Markkanen: “I have no idea what's coming next, and that's kind of out of our control. But like I've always talked about during training camp, you control what you can and that's what we've been doing. No matter if somebody has to sit out, there's always guys ready to jump in. And I don't have really an answer for what's going to happen, so we'll see. Everybody's just kind of guessing and we're not going to pay attention to that. We're going to go out with the guys that we have and not worry about who's missing.”

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