The message from the Bulls on Thursday was simple: They weren’t comfortable discussing much.
According to a team source, that was the stance the organization would take until the NBA announces a definitive plan after it suspended the 2019-20 season because of the coronavirus outbreak, which has infected two players.
The Bulls got their players, coaching staff and traveling party out of Orlando, Florida, and back to Chicago in the afternoon, and the source said that coach Jim Boylen has been very prominent in discussing different scenarios with the team.
A team statement was released after they landed, saying, “The Chicago Bulls returned home from Orlando, Fla., on Thursday, March 12. Following the league’s direction on the suspension of games, and at the recommendation of the team’s medical staff and team physicians, the Bulls have stopped all basketball operations activities for the next few days as a proactive measure to social distance.
“No player has reported experiencing any symptoms at this time. Players, coaches and basketball operations personnel have been asked to remain in the Chicagoland area and to exercise good judgment related to personal hygiene and social distancing.
“This is a fluid situation that we are all navigating together. Once the NBA has determined the next steps for the season, we will work with the league to provide updates as necessary.’’
And that’s the problem right now: There are so many unknowns, especially for a team that was nowhere near a playoff spot with 17 regular-season games left.
The only precedent from a basketball standpoint was the Chinese Basketball Association shutting down in January. It has just begun moving forward to resume play in April. So a two-week layoff likely is unrealistic.
Even if there is a best-case scenario, and the shutdown is lifted in mid-April, starting play back up right when the regular-season schedule would’ve ended would mean an NBA Finals in July. That’s also not very realistic, considering the load management and resting of players that is so prevalent in the league. A short offseason for recovery could prove disastrous.
Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said the league informed him late Wednesday night that teams could continue to practice, but that would also seem to be a fanciful notion at this point. The Bulls haven’t even broached that topic, a source said.
If there is a positive in this sad situation as far as Bulls president Michael Reinsdorf is concerned, it gives him time to continue developing a plan for a revamped front office.
The Bulls are in the early stages of adding a new face — or faces — in management. There has been some progress in that search, but it remains in the fact-finding stages.
Consequently, there’s a lot of uncertainty with regard to what vice president of basketball operations John Paxson’s role will be, as well as the eventual fate of Boylen.
It seemed as if Reinsdorf was running out of time to start bringing in candidates, especially during a busy end-of-the-season push for many teams. A leaguewide stoppage, however, could free up the Bulls to get even more invested in the process.
But some changes already have quietly taken place this season: Scottie Pippen is no longer in his role as team ambassador, and general manager Gar Forman has been slowly marginalized to the point where only chairman Jerry Reinsdorf is keeping him around.