Fresh off a frustrating season under an even more frustrating head coach, the Chicago Bulls finally have a new front office. Now, with plenty of momentum on their side, executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas and general manager Marc Eversley will make one of their first major decisions – picking the team’s next head coach. Over the following weeks, we’re going to take a closer look at some of the rumored candidates, including their history, what they bring to the table, what they might cost, and their general desirability.
Today: Billy Donovan
Name, Current Team, Current Position
Billy Donovan, Free Agent
When it comes to NBA experience, Billy Donovan has six seasons under his belt – five season as head coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder (2015-2020) and one season as a player with the New York Knicks (1987-88). All things considered, that doesn’t exactly sound like enough to be considered (arguably) the top coaching prospect on the market. However, Donovan’s recent run with the Oklahoma City Thunder demonstrated that he’s more than capable of leading a winning organization. Through his first four seasons with the team, the Thunder won 48 or more games. Then, even with the loss of Russell Westbrook and the Paul George this past offseason, Donovan led OKC to 44 wins and the 5th-seed in the Western Conference – a feat few expected at the start of the season. Overall, as an NBA head coach, he has compiled a 60.8 winning percentage.
Before his time in Oklahoma City, Donovan dominated the college coaching ranks. After a successful stint as an assistant coach in Kentucky, he became the youngest head coach in the NCAA when he accepted a job to lead the Marshall Thundering Herd. His work there caught the attention of the University of Flordia, and Donovan joined the Gators in 1996. The rest is legitimately history.
Donovan became one of the best coaches in college basketball, bolstering the Gators’ recruiting efforts and turning them into a constant title competitor. Over his 19 years with the program, the Gators won six SEC championships, made four Final Four appearances, and appeared in the NCAA title game three times, winning two-straight in 2006 and 2007. He also won SEC Coach of the Year three times, achieved the No. 1 ranking in the country five times, and made the postseason 17 straight times (look at the Gators website for more). Oh, he also had a 71 percent winning percentage. Simply put, the guy is an NCAA coaching legend, and it’s no surprise he eventually found his way into the NBA.
Over his time with the Gators and Thunder, he coached players like Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Bradley Beal, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Chris Paul. In other words, not only does he know what an elite player looks like, he’s helped players reach that elite status. Nice and Nice.
When Oklahoma City and Donovan decided to part ways, he quickly became the most intriguing name on the coaching market. While he fell victim to a first-round exit in four-straight seasons, he still demonstrated the ability to lead a consistently competitive team. With organizations like the Philadelphia 76ers and Indiana Pacers carrying a win-now roster, they certainly feel like the right players for Donovan. However, between those two teams, the 76ers are the only franchise to express immediate interest, per The Athletic’s Sam Amick.
The Chicago Bulls appear ready to give them some competition, though. Not too soon after ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported the OKC-Donovan separation, he reported that the Bulls front office is expected to show interest in Donovan’s services. Both the 76ers and Bulls are in two very different situations, so it’ll be interesting to see what role – if any – that plays in all of this.
While Donovan’s name is now heavily tied to the Bulls thanks to Woj’s report, many have failed to consider one important point – would Donovan even be interested?
The job is reportedly an intriguing one in coaching circles, but it’s important to note that Donovan decided to leave behind a two-year deal in Oklahoma City because he wasn’t confident about the direction of the franchise. What this tells us is that Donovan isn’t very interested in doing the grunt work. After five-straight playoff appearances, he’s probably used to that level of play and knows he can find it elsewhere. But can “elsewhere” be Chicago?
Who’s to say Karnisovas can’t do some convincing. The Bulls have plenty of intriguing young talent on the roster, and Donovan is more than equipped to handle a youthful roster. Aside from his college experience, he has most recently helped develop talent like Victor Oladipo, Steven Adams, Jerami Grant, Darius Bazley, Luguentz Dort, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. The Bulls front office could sell him on an accelerated path to playoff contention with his expertise. I doubt that sparks his interest more than an offer from the 76ers, but it’s something.
With that said, not everything is peachy with Donovan. The Mutual respect he has for players has arguably been one of his downfalls. During the days of Russell Westbrook and Co., it was clear that Donovan was content letting him run the show, which is something that came back to bite the team at times. Additionally, we didn’t necessarily see any advanced offensive system in OKC, despite that being a strength of his at the college level. On a team with no superstars like the Bulls, Donovan would have to tap back into that part of his basketball brain to find success.
When it comes down to it, though, Donovan is a true professional. If the Bulls were to hire him, he would immediately add a comfortable, player-friendly culture to the organization. The biggest question would probably be how much does he move the needle in the long run? I know he is Phil Jackson compared to Jim Boylen, so it’s probably not worth asking that question right now, but I’d say it’s at least something to think about after four straight first-round exits with some solid Thunder rosters.
They Said It …
As they should https://t.co/jiMxjgJfwZ
— Bradley Beal (@RealDealBeal23) September 9, 2020