The Chicago Bulls are off to a 17-10 start to the 2021-22 season, but of late have seen a slew of health and safety protocol entries throw their team’s well-being, schedule and rotations into flux.
As of this writing, 10 of the Bulls’ 19 rostered players (including two-way contracts and the 10-day signings of Stanley Johnson and Alfonzo McKinnie) are in protocols.
Here is everything you need to know about the situation:
How many Bulls are in NBA COVID-19 health and safety protocols?
Alize Johnson on Monday became the 10th Bulls player to enter protocols in the last 13 days, joining Coby White, Javonte Green, DeMar DeRozan, Matt Thomas, Derrick Jones Jr., Ayo Dosunmu, Stanley Johnson, Zach LaVine and Troy Brown Jr.
The Bulls have confirmed positive test results for White, who entered protocols on Dec. 1, and Green, who entered protocols on Dec. 3. The team only discloses positive tests with the player's approval.
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That means 11 Bulls players have entered health and safety protocols this season, including Nikola Vučević, who tested positive in early November.
When will the Bulls players in protocols return?
Once each of them stays 10 days in protocol, and/or returns two negative PCR tests in a 24-hour span, protocol-affected players undergo cardiac screening sanctioned by the NBA. Then, they are eligible to return.
As a frame of reference, Vučević tested positive on Nov. 11, and was sidelined until returning on Nov. 24, missing seven games in the process.
White and Green will have each passed 10 days in protocols before Tuesday's (Dec. 14) home game against the Detroit Pistons, but their statuses are yet unclear. White, at least, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, re-entered the Bulls' facility to begin his ramp-up towards a return on Sunday.
What is the Bulls’ vaccination status?
The Bulls are a fully vaccinated team. Vučević said after Saturday's loss to the Heat that "most" of the team has received booster shots.
As of last update, the NBA reported its league to be 97 percent vaccinated. The Bulls have offered boosters to players and staff.
How have the Bulls been affected by the COVID-19 outbreak?
Head coach Billy Donovan has disclosed that the team, while vaccinated, is back to testing multiple times per day. Players are encouraged to be masked for all team activities. And the Bulls’ ability to practice and hold shootarounds on game days has been inhibited by recent protocol entries.
“The league has put some things on us that we can and cannot do as a group, so it’s definitely been somewhat challenging,” Donovan said before the team's Dec. 6 game against the Nuggets.
Missing their starting shooting guard, small forward and power forward in LaVine, DeRozan and Green, rotation mainstays in White, Dosunmu and Jones Jr., and a reserve failsafe in Thomas, Donovan’s rotations have also been strained and those available have played heavy minutes. Alex Caruso did return from a hamstring strain to play 27 minutes against the Heat, but Patrick Williams is out another three-to-five months rehabbing a wrist injury.
In all, three of the Bulls' eight available players are either two-way players (Devon Dotson, Tyler Cook) or hardship exception additions (McKinnie). Eight of their top 11 scorers are out, including the top two of DeRozan and LaVine. Caruso still isn't 100 percent after the hamstring injury. And even if White and/or Green returns, they'll be doing so without a formal practice.
Donovan did say in Miami he's spoken to Bulls players in protocols, and most are dealing with either mild symptoms or are asymptomatic altogether.
"Maybe some of it's from the vaccination, we've got a lot of guys sitting home with no symptoms," Donovan said. "I understand the testing protocols, and I understand what the league's trying to do in terms of keeping and making sure everybody's safe. But we do have guys back there that feel fine. And that's obviously a good thing too, because I think when guys have gone through real, real difficulty of getting really, really sick, it's really made it a lot harder for them coming back."
Bulls sign Stanley Johnson and Alfonzo McKinnie with hardship exceptions
With so many people on the shelf, the NBA granted the Bulls two hardship exceptions to temporarily sign extra players.
In turn, the Bulls announced Thursday it signed Stanley Johnson to a 10-day contract. Johnson was with the Bulls for training camp and the preseason before losing out on the team’s final roster spot to Thomas.
And on Friday, the Bulls announced the signing of former Raptors, Warriors, Cavaliers and Lakers wing Alfonzo McKinnie, who owns 165 games of NBA experience, to a 10-day.
McKinnie, a 6-foot-7 29-year old, averaged 24.1 points and shot 43.3 percent from 3-point range in 10 games with the Ciudad de Mexico Capitanes G League team this season. He hails from Chicago, split his high school playing days between Curie and Marshall, and appeared in 50 games for the Windy City Bulls in 2016-17.
Johnson and McKinnie both joined the team for Friday's practice in Miami, but Johnson entered protocols on Saturday.
Once the Bulls injured or protocol-affected players return, they will need to trim their roster back down to 15 players (17 including two-way contracts).
Will the NBA postpone any Bulls games?
Donovan said before Monday’s game against the Nuggets, hours after DeRozan entered protocol, that he had “not heard anything along those lines” when asked if he’d heard talk about the league potentially postponing games. He reiterated that sentiment in Miami.
During the 2020-21 season, the NBA postponed 31 games due to COVID-19 complications. League rules state both teams must have at least eight active players to hold a game, offering a benchmark for situations when a postponement might be necessary. To this point, the league has given no indication it will change that stance, although, according to a source, the Bulls are making appeals for it to do so.
As of this writing, the Bulls are slated to have eight active players against the Pistons: Vučević, Ball, Caruso, Tony Bradley, Marko Simonović, McKinnie, Dotson and Cook. White and Green could add one or two more players to that list.
After the Pistons, the Bulls next have games scheduled on the road against the Raptors on Thursday, Dec. 16, and at home against the Lakers on Sunday, Dec. 19.
NBC Sports Chicago's K.C. Johnson contributed.