Four Bulls players out Sunday with ‘excused absence,’ is Chicago dealing with COVID-19 outbreak?

Houston Rockets v Chicago Bulls
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Noah Vonleh. Tomas Satoransky. Luke Kornet. Devon Dotson.

None of the four were with the Bulls on Sunday night when the team took on the Rockets. They were defined as “excused absences,” except for Vonleh, who coach Billy Donovan said was “in NBA protocol.”

Nobody is saying why those Chicago players were out (there are HIPPA concerns), but “excused absence” has become the code for a player testing positive for COVID-19. On the Bulls, Garrett Temple is the only confirmed case — because he announced he had it. It’s possible these new four players were exposed and had to quarantine, or had an inconclusive test, or some other reason they were out. But we know what the most likely reason is.

Just about every team is dealing with a player or two out on excused absences, but the last-minute nature of Vonleh and having four out means Chicago may be seeing the worst of it. K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago asked Donovan about it.

“We’ve got to stay flexible. We’ve got to be able to absorb and handle anything that’s thrown at us, because there’s going to be disruption. And when there’s disruption, what you have to have is guys who are engaged,” said Donovan, who added some of the information came before the game while the team was at the arena. “These guys have done a good job. It’s going to be a crazy time and a crazy season with what we’re all dealing with now. From game to game, day to day, your team is going to change. Guys can be in different roles. Guys may have to learn a different position. It’s going to be hard. There may not be a lot of continuity. But you just have to try to do the best you can.”

The cloud of COVID-19 will hang over teams all season (although Mark Cuban hoes it goes away by the second half of the season). The disease will change the course of this season — at some point a star player will come down with it, miss three weeks give or take, and the games lost in that stretch could cost a team a seeding spot or two. The players understand that, as Lauri Markkanen said.

“I have no idea what’s coming next, and that’s kind of out of our control. But like I’ve always talked about during training camp, you control what you can and that’s what we’ve been doing. No matter if somebody has to sit out, there’s always guys ready to jump in. And I don’t have really an answer for what’s going to happen, so we’ll see. Everybody’s just kind of guessing and we’re not going to pay attention to that. We’re going to go out with the guys that we have and not worry about who’s missing.”