NEW YORK — Bulls coach Billy Donovan doesn’t do self-praise very well. So of course he seemed uncomfortable Thursday when asked about being named Eastern Conference Coach of the Month for the games played from the start of the season in late October through the end of November.
“I think anytime you’re in a team setting and there is any kind of acknowledgement, per se, it’s always a reflection of the coaching staff and the players and the organization, in my opinion,” he said. “The players are the ones who do it out there on the court.”
Donovan is the fifth Bulls coach to receive a Coach of the Month honor, joining Doug Collins, Phil Jackson, Scott Skiles and Tom Thibodeau, who had the most recognitions of that bunch with six.
“Obviously, I’m very humbled by it and honored by it, but I also realize . . . it’s really a recognition of our team,” Donovan said.
That said, he has steered the Bulls through some serious challenges in the early weeks of the season, getting a largely new team used to playing with each other while dealing with a number of moving parts. Second-year forward Patrick Williams was lost early with torn ligaments in his wrist, center Nikola Vucevic was lost for seven games because of the coronavirus, and guard Coby White missed the start of the season while recovering from shoulder surgery, only to test positive for the coronavirus shortly after returning.
Donovan has helped his players overcome those hiccups and also has them playing defense at a high level compared to last season.
“I think it speaks to maybe what I’ve been talking about from Day 1: the willingness of these guys to come back into Chicago after Labor Day to get to work with each other,” Donovan said. “There were a lot of teams, especially in the East, that have a lot of continuity and consistency and have been together. And we’re one of those teams that hasn’t, and we tried to expedite some of those growing pains.”
Donovan, who has been checking in with White since he tested positive Wednesday, said White has minimal COVID-19 symptoms and is just riding it out.
“[We’re] trying to be there for Coby, same way [we were] with [Vucevic] when he was out,’’ guard Alex Caruso said. “It’s unfortunate, especially because he was just starting to catch his rhythm again, starting to get into the flow of the game coming back from offseason surgery.”
Practice? What’s that?
A brutal November schedule with an extensive road trip made practice time hard to come by. That changed this week, as the Bulls were able to get in a solid practice Wednesday to work on some defensive miscues. They’ll practice again Friday in New York.
“It’s a necessary evil to getting better, necessary to improve on things you can’t do live in games,” Caruso said. “You need reps doing stuff to make sure you can implement it into games.”