As Bulls move closer to being back to full strength, decisions coming

Chris Fleming doesn’t know when or where, but the Bulls acting head coach knows the team will be at full strength sooner than later, and yes, that included Billy Donovan returning to his head coaching duties.

“I think Coach is getting pretty close,” Fleming said on Friday. “He feels good, and I think he’s raring to go, so I think we’ll get him back in the next couple days.”

The same can be said for guards Lonzo Ball (health and safety protocols) and Alex Caruso (mid-foot sprain), and then things get interesting.

Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu have been solid fill-ins for the short-handed backcourt the last week, which was especially key for White, considering all he’s been through since the end of last season.

The former first-round pick (No. 7 overall) from the 2019 draft, White went from losing his starting point guard job, to offseason shoulder surgery that cost him an entire summer to working on his game, to finally getting back in mid-November, only to go in the protocols after just nine games.

So the fact that he started the last handful of games, including one of his best passing displays as a professional in the Wednesday win over the Hawks with 12 assists, says a lot about White continuing to adapt.

But here’s the upcoming dilemma for White and the Bulls: They are obviously still in the business of developing players, but they also can’t let White play through mistakes like they have in years past. Minutes will be tough to find once Ball and Caruso return, and then there’s also the emergence of Dosunmu.

The Illinois standout is a better defender than White, and also brings an energy and ability to impact winning that White lacks.

So what then?

“The depth of our roster is something that’s helped carry us through these times, and there’s certainly always decisions to make going into a game, but for Ayo and for Coby there’s always going to be minutes there with what both of those guys give us,” Fleming said. “And both of them bring very important qualities to the team on the development side that helps us in the present.”

Maybe, but White especially, needs playing time to find some consistency in his game, and also to showcase his talents if the Bulls do opt to make him a trade piece come February.

“I feel like I’m getting better,” White said of what he’s shown lately. “I just feel like I gotta get reps under my belt. For me, it’s just continuing to get in the gym and play with these new guys and just playing off those main players and be the best player I can for my team.

“I know who I am as a player. I’m going to stick to that. I know I can bring a lot to the court more than putting the ball in the basket. I’m going to continue to be me.”

Fleming and the coaches were counting on that.

“I think everybody sees the long game, and we’ll continue to develop all of our guys, not just Coby,” Fleming said. “I think we’ve got to be a little patient with that. He’s moving in a good direction.”

Skeleton crew

Even with 17 players and a head coach in the protocols since November, the Bulls opted to travel very light for the back-to-back in Indiana and Washington.

That meant scaled back personnel in the travel party, as the Bulls were taking no chances with further spread of the coronavirus.

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