Bulls down seven players and counting as they prepare for Heat

There might be a pickup-game feel Saturday night with some of coach Billy Donovan’s rotations, but he doesn’t have a lot of options. The Bulls did practice Friday, getting work for new additions Stanley Johnson and Alfonzo McKinnie, and there’s still hope that Alex Caruso (hamstring) will play.

SHARE Bulls down seven players and counting as they prepare for Heat

MIAMI — Sunny and 82 goes a long way in squashing self-pity.

The Bulls, slammed by a coronavirus outbreak, needed every degree of the warm Florida weather Friday after going through practice at the FTX Arena short-handed, with a few participants requiring a CliffsNotes version of the playbook.

“What’s happening is once something happens with the [coronavirus] test, they put [the player] in the [safety] protocols, but there’s all this retesting that goes on and other stuff,” coach Billy Donovan said before he started snickering in disbelief. “So sometimes it gets a little crazy. . . . Yeah, it’s been a lot.”

Donovan woke up to yet another phone call he didn’t want Thursday, informed that forward Derrick Jones Jr. had tested positive for COVID-19 and was the fifth Bull headed into the NBA protocol in the last week.

Jones joined Javonte Green, DeMar De-Rozan, Coby White and Matt Thomas in the protocol. Add Patrick Williams (wrist surgery) and Alex Caruso (hamstring), and that makes seven players the Bulls are currently missing from their opening night roster.

The NBA approved two hardship exceptions that allowed the Bulls to sign forwards Stanley Johnson and Alfonzo McKinnie, a Chicago native who played at Marshall High. Don’t expect either to just sit there in a warmup outfit Saturday when the Bulls play the Heat. After practice, several assistant coaches and a few of the Bulls’ healthy reserves stayed after with Johnson and McKinnie to go through the offensive sets and emphasize what they want to see on defense.

The Bulls had Johnson for training camp and the preseason games, so Friday was more of a refresher for him. McKinnie had a lot more to learn — and likely will be processing some of it in real time Saturday.

“I would envision one, if not both, of them playing,” Donovan said. “The thing we’ve got to do is get them up to speed, especially with the offense. Stanley, after I talked to [executive vice president of basketball operations] Arturas [Karnisovas], I felt comfortable with that one just because he spent fall camp with us and the preseason, so just from a terminology standpoint, it’s like, ‘OK, this guy has a little of a handle on it.’

“McKinnie doesn’t have any, so we’re going to have to kind of script those guys. With the power forward position, with Javonte, Patrick and now Derrick, we have no one there. We can slide Troy [Brown Jr.] down there, and we’ll be pretty small. Stanley is a big, strong guy, and McKinnie has some length, but how they’re going to fit in, it’s a pickup game. It’s going to be interesting.”

Donovan’s biggest worry between now and game time Saturday? Getting another phone call.

He asked Karnisovas and head trainer Chip Schaefer about the game being postponed if one or more additional Bulls players test positive, but that scenario doesn’t seem likely.

“They didn’t think we were there yet,” Donovan said. “I have not heard anything like, ‘Hey, one more guy goes [and] we’re done.’ I think they’re going to try and get us through. The thing that’s crazy is these guys were all pretty disciplined and diligent about getting vaccinated and doing all that stuff. Chip is dealing with the league. So is Arturas. I just get the feedback from them on what [the players] have to do to get back with our team.”

One positive: Caruso increased his activity in practice Friday. If he has no setbacks and gets through Saturday’s workout, he could return to the rotation in some capacity.

“He did all the running stuff with us, the cutting stuff,” Donovan said. “I think they’re going to start ramping him up more, but he went from doing nothing to being out there with us [Friday], so I think he’s getting better. I think his decision will be based on what they do [Saturday].”

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