Three more Bulls, including Lonzo Ball, enter protocols

Ball, Tony Bradley and Alfonzo McKinnie were put in the health and safety protocols before the game Sunday night against the Pacers, and fill-in coach Chris Fleming was left counting his blessings.

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Bulls guard Lonzo Ball has been placed in the NBA’s coronavirus protocols.

Bulls guard Lonzo Ball has been placed in the NBA’s coronavirus protocols.

Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

It was a somewhat nervous-sounding laugh from Bulls acting head coach Chris Fleming when he was asked Sunday how he has avoided coming up positive and having to enter the NBA’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols.

Considering he’s one of the few in the main traveling party who hasn’t tested positive, it’s no wonder he sounded like a guy who suddenly believed in jinxes.

“I don’t want to touch that,’’ Fleming said.

He then proceeded to point out all the close calls.

Every game, Fleming sits next to coach Billy Donovan, who went into the protocols Friday. And he went to breakfast with radio announcers Chuck Swirsky and Bill Wennington in Miami hours before Wennington turned up positive.

“I don’t even want to talk about it,’’ Fleming said with a laugh. “Blessed to still be standing.’’

He indeed can feel blessed after another wave hit the Bulls over the weekend.

Donovan was the first domino, then minutes before the shootaround, Tony Bradley and Alfonzo McKinnie were pulled from practice. After the shootaround, trainer Chip Schaefer came into Fleming’s office and let him know that Lonzo Ball tested positive.

“It’s frustrating for the guys because we come to practice, and I know every other team in the league is dealing with this, but you lose [Bradley and McKinnie] right before shootaround, then right after shootaround, [Ball] gets pulled,’’ Fleming said. ‘‘So I think dealing with that mentally — guys come in, and they get a focus, they’re together as a group, then all of a sudden you’re losing guys. That’s what we’re fighting, and that’s what the other 29 teams are fighting, too.’’

But the other teams haven’t been hit as hard as the Bulls.

The only Bulls who haven’t been in the protocols are Alex Caruso, Tyler Cook and Marko Simonovic.

The news on Ball was an especially tough blow because he was leading the team in minutes.

“It happened so fast,’’ Fleming said. “If you know how competitive [Ball] is, it will hurt him. He loves to compete, so it’s tough for him.’’

Fleming did say that he, Donovan and the rest of the coaching staff have been conducting business as usual the last few days, but they’ve been doing it over Zoom.


It was a good-news, bad-news day for McKinnie, the Marshall graduate who went from a hardship-exemption player, to a second 10-day contract, to finding out he was sticking on the roster, replacing Alize Johnson, who was waived.

Then before taking the court for the shootaround, he obviously found out he was headed into the protocols and would miss the game against the Pacers.

“I think Alfonzo has been great for us,’’ Fleming said. “Those decisions are always tough.’’

Still ailing

Caruso was still dealing with a sprained left foot, and the team wasn’t going to have clarity on his timetable until later this week, when he was scheduled to be re-evaluated.

The Bulls also were keeping an eye on forward Derrick Jones Jr., who came out of the protocols last week, then strained his left hamstring in his first game back. It was believed to be a mild strain, but Jones has yet to return.

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