Just two days after the Omicron variant ruined the highly-anticipated Christmas Day lineup that the NBA unveiled months ago, the Chicago Bulls traveled to Atlanta to face the Hawks in a game that had the communications staff of both teams Googling the names on their rosters.
Almost 20 players, as well as Bulls head coach Billy Donovan, weren’t able to participate in the Bulls’ Monday night 130-118 win over the Hawks due to injury or the league’s health and safety protocols.
Things got so bad for the Hawks that they had to start a guy who had only been on the roster for a few hours. Chaundee Brown signed with Atlanta earlier in the day, and by Monday he was in the starting lineup.
Take a look at Atlanta’s list.
Players out due to protocols:
Danilo Gallinari, Lou Williams, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Kevin Huerter, Sharife Cooper, Onyeak Okongwu, John Collins, Delon Wright, Jalen Johnson, and Wes Iwundu
Players out due to injury:
Solomon Hill and DeAndre Hunter
Players on 10-day contracts:
Lance Stephenson, Malcolm Hill, Cat Barber, Malik Ellison, Brown, and Wes Iwundu
Things would have been even worse for the Hawks if Trae Young wouldn’t have dropped 29 points and 9 assists in his first game back as he came out of protocols just hours before the game.
“They’ve been logging a lot of minutes,” said Hawks coach Nate McMillan. “We had two, three guys ask for a sub and that’s never happened. I don’t think it was a lack of effort.”
Just a few weeks ago, the Bulls were in the same place the Hawks are as they were the face of COVID in the NBA as they had two games rescheduled due to 10 players being in protocols during a 13-day span earlier this month. Now, everybody is back except for Donovan, as the only thing Chicago needs to do is get injured players like Lonzo Ball, Derrick Jones Jr., Alex Caruso, Tony Bradley, Alfonzo McKinnie, and Patrick Williams healthy enough to return to the lineup.
“It’s frustrating for the guys,” said Bulls assistant coach Chris Fleming about what Chicago has endured. “I know every other team in the league is dealing with this, but you lose two guys (Bradley and McKinnie) right before shootaround and then right after shootaround Zo (Ball) gets pulled. I think dealing with that mentally — guys come in and they get a focus, they’re together as a group, and 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.”
Last week, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said that he wasn’t planning on hitting the pause button on games. By Monday, the league had changed some of the protocols by shortening the isolation period for players that have tested positive — similar to what the CDC has recommended.
When Silver said the “virus will decide” in the fall of 2020 about how the NBA would conduct their business, it felt like the league was going to do everything it could to not be bullied by the pandemic. Over a year later, it looks like the NBA — and the rest of the sports world — is just fine with giving the bully their lunch money before it’s even demanded.