The Chicago Bulls have hired Billy Donovan as the 24th head coach in franchise history. Donovan was at the top of the list of many head coaching searches, including the Philadelphia 76ers and Indiana Pacers, but he ultimately chose to sign with the Bulls. New GM Arturas Karnisovas recruited Donovan heavily as soon as he became available and it was made clear he was the organizations top target according to reports.
New Bulls President Arturas Karnisovas hopes to turn around one of the NBA’s signature franchises. Photo Credit: Aaron Ontiveroz
This may come as a surprise to some, as it was reported he left Oklahoma City to avoid going through a rebuild and Chicago is going through one of their own, but that was Oklahoma City and this is Chicago. The Bulls new front office was able to sell Donovan on the idea that the Bulls are a cornerstone franchise in a major market with a talented young roster full of high lottery picks. We know the situation Donovan is walking into, but let’s break down what he brings to the Chicago Bulls
A Respected Voice In The Locker Room
Many of former Bulls coach Jim Boylen’s issues with this team stemmed from his inability to gain the respect of his players. He tried to be a disciplinarian style coach for a young team that didn’t seem to respond to his odd antics and coaching methods. Billy Donovan has already made his name as a head coach whose system works and who has won at almost every level. He is a two-time College National Champion with the Florida Gators, a football school, as well as an NBA head coach who has never missed the playoffs. He was voted co-coach of the year by the National Basketball Coaches Association this year, meaning he has the respect of his peers, as well as his players. Not to mention he took the Thunder to within a game of the finals and has coached Kevin Durant. He should have little trouble getting the Bulls young stars to buy in to what he wants to do.
Former Coach Jim Boylen struggled to gain the respect of his players. Photo Credit: Mark Lennihan, Associated Press
A Proven Track Record of Winning
Like I said earlier, Donovan is a proven winner. His record in college was 502-206 which was good for an astounding .709 winning percentage. He also was the last coach to win back to back National Titles when he was at Florida. This includes a 3 year stretch where his team went 62-19 and a 36-3 season in 2013-2014. Once he joined the Thunder of the NBA, he went to the Western Conference Finals his first year and fell just a game short of the NBA Finals. In his 5 seasons as the Thunder Head Coach, he amassed a record of 243-157 good for a .608 winning percentage, and his teams have never won fewer than 47 games. That sounds like music to the ears of an organization who hasn’t won more than 42 games in that span, including less than 30 wins in each of the last three seasons. The young roster in Chicago should have no issue buying into the system of a proven winner like Donovan.
Billy Donovan has won at every stop he’s made during his coaching career. Photo Credit: Bryan Terry/ The Oklahoman
A Coach Who Can Develop Young Talent
The Bulls have Wendell Carter Jr, Coby White, and Lauri Markkanen, as well as the 4th overall pick in the upcoming draft. While Coby White had an impressive first season in Chicago, Markkanen has regressed since his rookie season when he showed flashes of the greatness that got him drafted 7th overall, and Wendell Carter Jr. had arguably the highest expectations tied to him of any of the three. While he may not have the same upside potential of the Markkanen or White, he was seen as an NBA ready big man who could potentially stretch the floor with his natural shooting stroke. He hasn’t lived up to those projections yet, and Donovan will have to get more than the 11-9 he produced this season out of Carter Jr. if they plan on him being a part of this roster long term. Luckily for him, Donovan has a proven track record of developing talent and exceeding expectations.
He is credited with turning Florida, traditionally a football school, into a perennial basketball powerhouse despite never having even a top 10 recruiting class. Add that to the fact that the Thunder just finished a season that saw them start with a less than 2 percent chance to make the playoffs, only to finish 5th in a deep western conference, and you’ve got the right man for the job. The Bulls must develop the talent they have if they want any chance of making the playoffs anytime soon.
Billy Donovan had immense success turning less-heralded recruits into stars in his time at Florida. Photo Credit: USA Today Sports
A Defensive Minded Approach
One of the hardest things to get a young roster to do is buy into defense. It’s easy to convince a young player to give it their all on offense, it’s sexy and cool to score 20 points a night. In the NBA, none of that matters if you can’t defend at a high level. Everyone in the league can score, not everyone is willing to buy in to the idea of giving 100% on the defensive end for 48 minutes. Donovan has never had a team finish worse than 10th in defensive rating in his 5 years in the NBA, and his Florida teams won back to back National Championships behind the stifling defense of Al Horford, Joakim Noah, and Corey Brewer. If you can get college guys to buy in to playing defense, you should be able to get professionals making millions to do the same. He also just took young roster in OKC, save for Chris Paul, to 7 games against the heavily favored Houston Rockets on the back of tough defense that gave James Harden fits.
The Ability to go in Another Direction
If the Bulls organization went all out to hire a big name proven coach like Billy Donovan, they may not be interested in taking the time to develop 4 lottery picks and build something from the ground up. Going in this direction instead of hiring an unproven assistant gives Chicago the option to package their young talent for a current star in a trade or try and move guys like Zach LaVine and accrue cap space for a run at the giant 2021 free agent class. Considering the fact that Donovan just agreed to part ways with an organization who wanted to go through the type of rebuild the Bulls have been stuck in for years, it makes a lot of sense that management would try and sell him on the idea of bringing in one or two proven superstars in exchange for all the potential that’s already on this roster.
Whether the Bulls go after superstars or try and build a championship caliber team with the pieces that are already there and the potential star they could get with the 4th overall pick in the draft, they now have the luxury of a head coach who has proven he can win with a roster built either way. For years the Bulls organization has been in their own way when it comes to finding the right coach, and letting him actually run things his way. Now, with an entirely new front office, the organization has taken the first step to rebuilding one of the NBA’s most proud franchises by signing a proven winner in Billy Donovan. Now the work can begin in earnest for Karnisovas and Donovan to bring their vision for the Bulls, whatever it may be, to life.