The Chicago Bulls must be gutted with the recent events surrounding their squad.
In a season where pundits expected them to fail, the Bulls pulled off quality wins against the likes of the Brooklyn Nets and the Utah Jazz, remaining in second place in the Eastern Conference at 17-10, behind the Nets and ahead of the likes of the Milwaukee Bucks, Miami Heat, and the Philadelphia 76ers.
Without a doubt, credit belongs to DeMar DeRozan, Zach Lavine, and Nikola Vucevic, who all have provided the perfect inside-outside combo with some midrange on the side.
On top of that, Chicago currently has a defense that is second in 2-point percentage (.500), 10th in points allowed (105.7), and top-15 in turnovers forced (15.0). Part of that stems from having the likes of former Los Angeles Lakers Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso, but it also speaks of a greater commitment to that side of the ball led in part by Bulls head coach Billy Donovan.
The outbreak within the team, however, puts all these gains into peril.
As of this writing, the Bulls have 10 players who are in health and safety protocols, with Alize Johnson being the latest to enter protocols after testing positive for COVID-19. He joins the likes of DeMar DeRozan, Zach Lavine, Coby White, Troy Brown Jr., Javonte Green, Matt Thomas, Ayo Dosunmu, Derrick Jones Jr., and Stanley Johnson, who was recently called up from the G-League.
Given that Chicago now only has a league-minimum eight players who could suit up, the NBA decided to postpone their next two games against the Detroit Pistons and the Toronto Raptors to later dates in order for some of their players to fulfill either the 10-day quarantine or return two negative PCR tests within a 24-hour window.
Further complicating matters is how COVID-19’s effects differ for each person. The experiences of Jayson Tatum and more recently Joel Embiid have been well-documented and getting back to pre-COVID-19 form could be easier said than done for certain players. However, on the other side we should not forget the deaths in the family of Karl Anthony-Towns and the personal struggles he went through because of his experience with COVID-19.
Taken together, recent events all point to the fact that the world remains in a global pandemic, and the league is living with it by continuing to proceed with caution. Vaccines remain crucial in preventing severe cases, but containing the spread of the disease requires a whole-of-society approach and targeted measures. The current protocols the NBA has in place have tried to nip any infections at the bud, but the Bulls’ case only points to how easy it is for the virus to spread.
Other professional sports leagues are grappling with COVID-19 problems of their own, as the NHL’s Calgary Flames have had their games suspended until at least December 16, while the Premier League’s Manchester United have suspended their upcoming match against Brentford due to an outbreak within the club. The NFL also had more than 30 positive COVID-19 tests earlier today and there likely will be more in the coming days.
With the revised schedule, Chicago’s next game is slated for December 20, when they will take on the Los Angeles Lakers. In fact, they will play three games in four nights as they take on the Houston Rockets on the 21st and face the Raptors on the 23rd. Some of the Bulls players currently in the protocols may be back by then, but getting them into game shape and helping the other healthy players take on larger roles will be of utmost priority, especially as the playoff race in the East heats up.
It is in all likelihood that the Chicago Bulls won’t be the last squad or even sports team to be affected by COVID-19, but this serves as a cautionary tale in these uncertain times. Success in this day and age isn’t solely predicated on oncourt performance alone as health and safety now carry greater weight, especially since these factors can limit time on the court and more importantly, affect everyone around.