Coaching Carousel: Chicago Bulls

Coaching Carousel: Chicago Bulls

The Coaching Carousel is a series of articles where I go over what each NBA team with a head coaching vacancy is looking for in their next head coach, what teams are saying about who they want to hire, and ultimately who I think would be the best fit for each job.

On the final day of the regular season the Chicago Bulls fired head coach Jim Boylen in a move that seemed to many like it couldn’t come soon enough. Boylen had an odd tenure as Bulls Head Coach, often clashing with staff and players. In two seasons he finished with a record of 39-84, and missed out on the playoffs each season. The front office went through a significant overhaul over the course of the last year, and had said publicity they felt this team could at least contend for a playoff spot. That being said, let’s dive into what the Bulls, and everyone around the league are saying about who their next coach will be.

What the Bulls are Saying

     Word out of Chicago is that their list includes several names of would-be first time head coaches.  Names like Wes Unseld Jr. of the Denver Nuggets, Adrian Griffin of the Toronto Raptors,  and Ime Udoka of the Philadelphia 76ers.  The only candidate they have said they would like to target with previous head coaching experience is Kenny Atkinson, formerly of the Brooklyn Nets.  The thinking here is they either want a young, exciting new hire who can grow with all the lottery talent they have on the roster, or they want someone with a proven track record of developing young talent. 

      In Griffin you have a guy who played  and was an assistant for the Bulls, and someone who has spent the last two seasons learning from the reigning Coach of the Year, Nick Nurse. He would give Chicago the young, new coach that could build his system and grow with an incredibly young, and talent roster.  On the other hand everyone knows what Atkinson brings to the table.  In an off-season already full of uncertainty thanks to the Coronavirus pandemic,  Chicago may choose to go with a coach that has already proven himself as a leading man.  Atkinson did wonders in Brooklyn with Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, D’angelo Russell, and Jarett Allen and the Bulls could see him as someone who could do a similar job developing what is soon to be a roster with 4 high lottery picks.  

Darvin Ham and Ime Udoka are two other first time head coaching candidates the Bulls have shown interest in. Ham has been the assistant coach for the Bucks and Hawks under Mike Budenholzer, learning under one of the brightest offensive minds in the league for several years. He also has a background in player development and was a nine-year NBA veteran, which would give him respect from the players in the locker room. Udoka played and coached under one of the greatest coaches in NBA history in Gregg Popovich, and he has been a hot commodity on the coaching market for some time now as the lead assistant to Brett Brown in Philadelphia. He has a great reputation around the league as a player motivator, something this organization has sorely missed since Tom Thibodeau was fired.

What Everyone Else is Saying

     Word around the NBA has it that this will be one of the most sought after coaching destinations this off-season.  Names that have been thrown around as the eventual replacement to Jim Boylen have ranged from Atkinson and Griffin, to Darvin Ham and Wes Unseld Jr.  It’s even been talked about that Brett Brown might get an interview now that he is available.  Needless to say, popular opinion is that this coaching search will be wide ranging and could last a while.  Wes Unseld Jr. and Adrian Griffin are seen by many as possible front-runners for the job due to strong ties to the Bulls GM Arturas Karnisovas.  

I’m getting the feeling that most around the NBA feel it will be a first time head coach that ultimately will be selected to man the sidelines for Chicago this season. Someone who can get in touch with today’s generation of players the way the last regime in Chicago never could; whether that be Boylen or his bosses. An offensive mind that will be able to develop the potential on this team into star power. It will be interesting to see which direction they go.

What the Bulls Should Do

Photo Credit: Mark J Rebilas USA Today Sports

Having four of your own high lottery picks on your roster is not a luxury teams ever want to let go to waste, and that is what’s at stake here for the Chicago Bulls. This is their one chance to see what these guys can develop into under the right head coach. In short, they have to get this hire right. Ultimately I think their first choice is and should be Kenny Atkinson. However, I think Atkinson will be an extremely hot coaching hire and will take a slightly better offer to coach another one of the teams currently riding the coaching carousel (more on that in another article). So with Atkinson off the market I think they turn to a first time head coach in 76ers lead assistant Ime Udoka. He was in charge of the 8th best defensive unit in basketball last season, after spending the last 7 years in San Antonio learning under one of the greatest coaches of our generation in Gregg Popovich.

If Atkinson is there and willing to come to Chicago, I think they would be crazy not to hire him, I just think he would be a better fit somewhere else. Udoka is a solid hire who is enough of an unknown to excite fans that are tired of head coaching re-treads, yet a well respected candidate in NBA circles. He will bring toughness to the defensive side of the ball as well as plenty of in-game experience, as he was in charge of strategizing and in game planning against 8 or 9 opponents when he coached in San Antonio. The Chicago Bulls have a lot on the line with their next hire for head coach and I think they should jump at the chance to put an up-and-coming first time head coach that has been on plenty of short lists of candidates on their sideline next season. Ime Udoka checks all the boxes, but regardless who the Bulls hire, they better be ready to develop a lot of young talent in a market not known for patience.

Photo Credit: Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

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