When the Chicago Bulls agreed to terms with Billy Donovan for their open head coach vacancy, Bulls fans celebrated with socially distanced air fives while most NBA fans scratched their heads. Donovan – with five-straight playoff appearances and a 2020 head coach of the year award from the coach’s association – was arguably the best option on the market. Practically every other team with a head coach vacancy offered a more proven, win-ready roster than the Bulls. I mean, this is the equivalent of your painfully average friend showing up with a bombshell date. He doesn’t have a killer job. His personality is average at best. And “How It’s Made” is literally his favorite tv show. Seriously, how the hell did these two end up together?
Donovan is way out of the Bulls league but, in recent interviews, he hasn’t acted like it. He’s helped all of us scared-to-be optimistic Bulls fans understand why he chose Chicago to be his new home, and it boils down to the fact that this organization has offered something not many others have – a true partnership.
“The idea to be able to partner with somebody and really work closely with somebody in terms of trying to build something, it reminded me a lot of previous situations I’ve been at where there’s been really, really good working relationships. You want to continue that,” Donovan told NBC Sports Chicago’s K.C. Johnson. “I felt Arturas was a guy who I really wanted to work with and wanted to work for. I felt we could hopefully make each other better, work well together, and hopefully continue to build something.”
Whether it be in his conversation with Johnson or David Kaplan or 670 The Score’s Mully & Haugh, Donovan has made it abundantly clear that the Bulls’ willingness to work hand-and-hand with him is the best part of the gig. He referenced the ability to help with free agency, the draft, and the general roster building.
The Bulls’ newfound focus on teamwork and collaborative effort is surely interesting when we think about how it relates to other organizations around the league. While the perception would be that all franchises try to offer some variation of this, Donovan believed the Bulls front office had the best version. Oklahoma City has far more assets than Chicago, and it’s very possible their expected rebuild could go over very well, but it’s obvious that something didn’t sit right with Donovan. Executive vice president and general manager Sam Presti must not have sold him on a communal future.
Everything about Donovan’s past tells us that he’s someone who likes getting his hands dirty. A former long-time college head coach, he’s at his best developing talent and building a roster. Donovan said the Bulls job reminded him of previous situations he’s been in, and it can pretty easily be assumed he’s talking about the jobs he held in the NCAA. Unlike the openings in Philly or Indiana, Donovan will have far more liberty to help build the team he wants to coach in Chicago. He used the term “blank canvas” when speaking to Mully & Haugh on 670 The Score, and this means he can paint the picture instead of restoring somebody else’s. In other words, it’s the best opportunity to be in charge of his fate.
“I think there’s a lot of newness to Chicago for me, which is a little different,” Donovan told Johnson “I walked into a situation at Oklahoma City where the team was really, really good and a lot of the culture and environment was already established. This is interesting because you’re starting from the ground floor and you have a chance to build upwards. That really excited me.”
Think about it, would Donovan have as long of a leash if he took a job in Philadelphia? The 76ers seem as though they want to give the Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons duo another try, even though many of us have seen it struggle mightily. Sure, perhaps Donovan helps them work it out … but what if he doesn’t? What if they fail again and he ends up taking the fall? What if they fail and he’s stuck in a franchise with no clear direction? In Chicago, Donovan has the opportunity to help choose the direction, and that’s something he values.
“The thing that really excited me is that Arturas wanted a partner in all of this, to help, to work together, to really have good dialogue about the direction. And, like I said earlier, there is kind of a blank canvas to start over with … I wanted, for me, to be in a situation where you’re coming to work and you feel like everyone is rowing the boat in the same direction,” Donovan said on 670 The Score’s Mully & Haugh show.
I know there still might be some confusion out there, and some will still say it’s better to hop aboard a study ship than try to fix a sinking one. However, some guys just like a challenge. Donovan wants to be the coach to bring a historic franchise back into the national spotlight, and I couldn’t be happier to know that’s the case.
If you’re interested in listening to any of his interview from the past couple of days, I’ll link them all below: