Bulls coach Billy Donovan said no immediate changes to starters yet

Before Donovan knew he would be without starting center Wendell Carter Jr., he was kicking around the idea of rotation changes. With a busy schedule upcoming and a desire to keep his bench players under a bit more minutes control, however, Donovan is staying the course.

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Bulls head coach Billy Donovan talks to his players during a game earlier this month.

Bulls head coach Billy Donovan talks to his players during a game earlier this month.

Matt Marton/AP

Bulls reserves Tomas Satoransky and Chandler Hutchison used the postponement of Wednesday’s game and the extra practice time to work on getting their conditioning back after recovering from COVID-19. The starters used it to keep getting in sync with one another.

For coach Billy Donovan, the extra days off were a bit more complicated. He spent much of the week kicking the tires on possible changes, specifically to the starting lineup after lulls in back-to-back losses to the Lakers and Celtics. He said earlier in the week that he would evaluate the mix of both starters and reserves to determine if he was maximizing both units. 

In the end, he decided to leave things as is with the starters, aside from dealing with the vacancy at center that Wendell Carter Jr.’s severely bruised quadriceps has created.

“Our bench has played well,” Donovan said Friday. “And I think with [reserves] Thad [Young] and Otto [Porter] and Garrett [Temple], just their experience, their years in the league, we have to be smart managing their minutes, especially with the stretch we have coming up — it’s 17 games in 31 days. It would be very difficult for those guys to handle an enormous amount of minutes night in and night out.

“That being said, when they come off the bench, you’re kind of shortening the game a little bit, so to speak, for them. We have the ability to keep them a little bit fresher coming down the stretch. But as we get a little bit of a larger sample size with Wendell being out, [we have to look at] possibly moving somebody into the starting lineup or rotation . . . to best maximize the group.”

That means when the Bulls host the Trail Blazers on Saturday, it’s back to Coby White, Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Patrick Williams as starters, with Daniel Gafford seemingly getting the first shot at filling in for Carter. How long those five keep it that way will depend on how they perform. 

Because of Markkanen’s ability to also play the five, Donovan noted he would have options in the frontcourt, beginning with Young playing the four.

“There may be matchups for us where playing Lauri and Thad together, we may not have enough length and physical size and presence up front,” Donovan said. “There’ll be some lineups that we can do it. There may be some lineups that maybe we need Gaff out there, we need Cris [Felicio] out there. It could be a variety of different things, but I think we’re going to have to be prepared to have significant and different rotations based on matchups and who we’re playing against.”

In other words, the versatility and endur-ance of the bench is about to be tested. Satoransky and Hutchison missed weeks after their positive COVID-19 tests last month, and while Satoransky has played in three straight games since returning, he admittedly needed this past week to keep getting his legs under him.

“Obviously, we want to play games,” he said. “Nobody likes when games are postponed, but personally for me, it was really good just to have a couple of good practices. On Wednesday, we basically played the whole practice.

“That helps you with stamina. That helps with your rhythm. My conditioning got much better, and you get that feel back. So I’m glad that I could work with the team like that for a couple of days. You don’t have that many moments during the season.”

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