NBA’s new COVID protocols could benefit Bulls and coach Billy Donovan

It would have really helped the Bulls out a few weeks ago, but the NBA and National Basketball Players Association agreed Monday to change the number of days vaccinated, asymptomatic players, coaches and referees who test positive for COVID have to quarantine from 10 to six.

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ATLANTA — It was news that likely would have benefitted the Bulls a bit more two weeks ago, but they’ll take it anyway.

Multiple outlets reported Monday that the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association agreed to changes in the length of time vaccinated, asymptomatic players, coaches and referees who test positive for COVID-19 will have to stay in quarantine, dropping it from 10 days to six days.

Individuals still can test out of the protocols with two negative results 24 hours apart, but knocking four days off the quarantine time was big for the Bulls, who have had 15 players go into the protocols since last month, then lost coach Billy Donovan to a positive test Friday.

Acting coach Chris Fleming called the decision ‘‘impactful’’ for Donovan and the remaining Bulls players still on the shelf.

Lonzo Ball, Tony Bradley and Alfonzo McKinnie are the three latest players in quarantine after testing positive last weekend. Even if they don’t test out of the protocols before that, they could be back by the time the Bulls visit the Wizards on Jan. 1 in Washington.

Not that the NBA’s decision comes as a surprise, considering the numbers that have hit the league in the last few days. As of Monday afternoon, 205 players had entered the protocols since the start of the season. On Sunday alone, 27 went in.

That was to be expected when the NBA started increasing daily testing a few weeks back, anticipating that the holidays would lead to more family and outside interaction with players.

Donovan, meanwhile, remained in contact with the coaching staff through Zoom on Monday, and Fleming said he was getting closer to returning to the sidelines.

‘‘Thankfully, he’s feeling pretty good,’’ Fleming said. ‘‘He had some mild symptoms at the beginning, but I think he sounds like himself now, and he’s ready to come back and get back to work.’’

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When swingman Derrick Jones Jr. tweaked his hamstring last week, the Bulls thought that it was mild and that he would be in for a quick return.

Fleming reiterated that before the game against the Hawks, even though Jones stayed back in Chicago to get some extra work in.

‘‘Exact timetables, I can’t tell you,’’ Fleming said. ‘‘But I do think he’ll be back in the near future. I do think he’s progressing in a good way. An exact date, I wouldn’t want to put that down.’’

Needing more time

It would be easy to pick on the inconsistency of Coby White’s game, especially after he started in place of Ball on Sunday against the Pacers and shot 3-for-10 from the field. But what’s being overlooked is his improving defense.

Fleming defended White, pointing out that his offense will come with repetition and minutes, especially in the wake of offseason shoulder surgery and a bout with COVID this month. His defense, however, is hopefully here to stay.

‘‘I think Coby, throughout his career and throughout his past, has been able to adjust,’’ Fleming said. ‘‘He’s gotten a lot better defensively, more consistent in guarding the pick-and-roll, and I’m really proud of his progress there. He’s been a little bit up and down in terms of his offense. I think his offense is going to come.’’

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