Tomas Satoransky back with the team, on track to play Friday in Charlotte

The point guard should help stabilize Chicago's early-season turnover issues .
by Sam Smith
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Tomas Satoransky resumes practice with the team after his bout with COVID-19 and month-long quarantine.

Just call Tomas Satoransky the luckiest unlucky Bulls player.

That's because the player who was the most reliable Bull last season, starting the most games and (with Coby White) the only Bulls player to appear in every game, is expected to return Friday in Charlotte after his second bout with Covid-19 despite exhibiting barely a symptom.

Satoransky contracted the potentially deadly virus, yet endured little discomfort—other than being away from work and a lot of loneliness—as none of his family members tested positive.

So, of course, it could have been much worse.

But now it should get better for the turnover-prone Bulls with the return of probably the Bulls' closest player to a traditional point guard. The 6-7 Czech guard has a career three-to-one assist/turnover ratio and with his playmaking helped direct the Washington Wizards to the playoffs when John Wall was first injured. Eventually, Satoransky saw his role decrease and signed with the Bulls as a free agent before last season. Satoransky didn't shoot well last season, but he did lead the team in assists. He was determined to improve with a vigorous offseason workout regimen. Satoransky then starred in the first preseason game with 11 points, seven rebounds and six assists.

And then he sat too close to Noah Vonleh.

Now Satoransky finally is ready again—and with some immunity with no more daily testing at least for three months—and perhaps he can help limit those turnovers.

Satoransky dribbles the ball up

"Obviously coming up my experience is playing point guard here and overseas. I think I've done a pretty good job in that area in my NBA career," Satoransky said. "So that was obviously a very tough situation for me, knowing that I can help in that area, organizing the team. But I like how the team responded and what they did. I said it to Zach (LaVine) that we all know that he's scoring and he will always score. But that was his two best games in decision making (Houston and Dallas) and I like how we got better in that area. I hope I will just make our team better in that."

It figures to require some rotation changes, though Bulls coach Billy Donovan said rookie Patrick Williams wasn't back to full practice from his hip problem and could be out Friday and Wendell Carter Jr. left practice Wednesday with a thigh problem. His status for Friday's game is unknown. The Bulls Saturday return home for a rematch with the Los Angeles Lakers, who survived a LaVine shot at the buzzer to defeat the Bulls in Los Angeles earlier this month.

The Bulls are 6-8 having won two straight and perhaps starting to make a move in the tightly bunched Eastern Conference where, tied for 11th, they are one game out of sixth place.

Though LaVine has improved as a facilitator this season and often has been playing point guard late in games along with Coby White at times, Donovan now will have the point guard experience of Satoransky.

Even if you're careful by bad luck you might get it. I had to just accept it at one point. I think I'm a strong person mentally and I just tried to rest and get rid of it and follow guys and observe their game and how they play and try to help as much as I can immediately once I come back.

Tomas Satoransky

It was supposed to be a strength of depth and an interesting decision Dec. 13. Almost six weeks later, the Bulls start to find out.

After that impressive opening preseason game, it was determined Satoransky was too close to Vonleh and forced into a 10-day quarantine period even as he never tested positive and never had symptoms during that time. It was a curious and somewhat inexplicable decision given Vonleh had just played in the Dec. 11 opening preseason game and even led with 11 rebounds. It would seem there were others close to him at the time. Vonleh, a former Bull, was then waived.

Satoransky was still out for the regular season opener Dec. 23. He had his best game in his third, the Dec. 29 win over Washington with 10 points and a team equalling best six assists in 20 minutes. Then Chandler Hutchison tested positive, forcing Satoransky yet again into quarantine due to apparent close contact. Sometimes it doesn't pay to be one of the team's more popular players.

"You are saying, like, what am I doing wrong because I was following all the rules," said Satoransky. "But it just tells you that it's unpredictable, this virus, and you have to be extra careful."

While Hutchison was quarantined in the team hotel in Washington, Satoransky was driven back to Chicago along with Ryan Arcidiacono and Lauri Markkanen, also supposedly merely in close contact. Then Satoransky did test positive for the virus, though Arcidiacono and Markkanen did not despite some 13 hours side by side in a van driving back to Chicago. Markkanen and Arcidiacono returned to play last week following absences in the potential exposure guidelines.

Mentally was the toughest part, just being away from the team for the second time, watching the games, knowing you could help. It also helped that they were playing pretty good. I saw a lot of progress in our play.

Tomas Satoransky

And Satoransky was shaking his head.

"Even if you're careful by bad luck you might get it," Satoransky acknowledged. "I had to just accept it at one point. I think I'm a strong person mentally and I just tried to rest and get rid of it and follow guys and observe their game and how they play and try to help as much as I can immediately once I come back."

Satoransky, of course, is grateful it wasn't more serious, or really serious at all, and that his family escaped infection. It's somewhat ironic because Satoransky is one of those players who rarely ever misses games, his only sustained stretch of absences in his NBA career coming when then Bull Bobby Portis gave him a concussion—Portis was ejected—for a throwdown on a Satoransky drive to the basket three years ago.

Satoransky was confident of an improved season after being able to work out in Europe during the Bulls long hiatus when the U.S. was mostly shut down. While also eliminating his summer tournament play, which may have contributed to some of Satoransky's difficulties last season after playing for his national team. Satoransky was grateful for the faith the Bulls showed in signing him to a three-year free agent deal before last season, his biggest NBA contract. Donovan was going to have some choices at point guard with White learning the position. Instead, the result has been an avalanche of turnovers—29th in the NBA—that often has buried the Bulls chances.

Satoransky holds his hand up after he shoots

So Donovan has some decisions to make again, which he'll welcome, while Satoransky can finally relax.

"Obviously, when I knew that I'm positive, it was beyond frustration," Satoransky said. "It was a difficult moment. I was fine going into the isolation on my own, but I was kind of worried about my family. Fortunately, they all tested negative. So that calmed me down. But mentally was the toughest part, just being away from the team for the second time, watching the games, knowing you could help. It also helped that they were playing pretty good. I saw a lot of progress in our play. I didn't have any serious symptoms, so that definitely helped. I moved to 10 days required isolation and then I was doing lots of tests just to come back and going through all the NBA protocols. I feel really good right now. "I'm taking it day by day, practice by practice," Satoransky said. "This was my first practice with the team. Now we have three days before our next game, so we can go through two full practices. I'm really not thinking about what is my role right now in the rotation because guys played really good the last two games. I'm trying to get my condition to the best level possible and then hopefully I can help."

Which will be about the best news for Satoransky is the craziest month of his career. And he played in Washington.

"Obviously you're trying to look for positive things -- there wasn't many -- but then I say, ‘OK, I'll be good for three more months with no more POC (daily) testing. I won't be able to end up on isolation again," Satoransky said. "We were going into the season knowing those are the risks that we're taking. It's frustrating when we're trying to do everything possible because you have a family home and you try to be responsible and you still get it. But I accepted that there's nothing more you can do about it and now I'll enjoy that time with no POC testing and actually organize my time better."

And do some organizing of maybe some late game Bulls offense.

Got a question for Sam?

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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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