Billy Donovan, Bulls Agree to Contract as New Head Coach

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistSeptember 22, 2020

Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Billy Donovan, left, talks with an official during the second half of an NBA first-round playoff basketball game against the Houston Rockets on Monday, Aug. 31, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

The Chicago Bulls hired Billy Donovan as their next head coach on Tuesday.

Donovan is coming off a successful five-year stint with the Oklahoma City Thunder, making the playoffs in each season. He and the Thunder mutually parted ways after failing to agree to a contract extension after Oklahoma City was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. The move is a bit of a surprise, given it was expected Donovan wanted to coach a contender. 

Donovan is likely to have Bulls fans on his side right out of the gate because he ticks an important box: He's not Jim Boylen.

The Bulls went 39-84 under Boylen's watch, their poor record only scratching the surface to explain why the fanbase had turned so vehemently against the coach. His practice methods were counterproductive at best, he extended games by using timeouts despite being down big and he shifted the blame at times for the team's struggles.

For many in the Windy City, hiring Arturas Karnisovas as executive vice president of basketball operations and Marc Eversley only went so far in terms of transforming the franchise. And the longer Boylen remained, the more it would potentially undercut Karnisovas.

Video Play Button
Videos you might like

Chicago finally fired Boylen on Aug. 14.

Player development wasn't a strength of Boylen's, so identifying the young stars around whom to build will be one of the primary tasks right out of the gate for Donovan and the Bulls' front office. Conversely, they might decide trading one or more of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen or Wendell Carter Jr. better serves their goals.

The absence of a true foundational piece is a clear problem for the franchise. The Bulls have a few young pieces but nobody who truly stands out as a perennial All-Star in the making such, as a Ja Morant, Trae Young, Luka Doncic or Zion Williamson.

LaVine is averaging 23.3 points through his first three years, but none of that scoring has translated into wins. The 25-year-old probably shouldn't be the go-to scorer on a team with playoff aspirations.

"Oh damn we got Billy Donovan as our coach. Wow. That will be good. Really good coach," Lavine said on Facebook Gaming after hearing the news.

Markkanen hasn't gone backward so much as he has remained stagnant for the most part following his encouraging rookie season in 2017-18.

Carter averaged 11.3 points and 9.4 rebounds last season but can't space the floor (12-of-61 on three-pointers through two years).

Coby White, the No. 7 overall pick in 2019, will likely improve as the game slows down. His rookie year (13.2 points, 2.7 assists, 39.4 field-goal percentage) was solid but unspectacular.

Markkanen is a restricted free agent in 2021, with Carter on the restricted market in 2022. LaVine's contract expires in 2022 as well, so it's imperative for Karnisovas and Eversley to know whether any of the trio is worth a multiyear extension and how high they're willing to go.

As The Ringer's Dan Devine noted after Boylen's departure, sifting through the roster will serve dual purposes:

"The new coach will have to establish a baseline from which to evaluate Chicago's young pieces, to determine which ones merit consideration as cornerstones for the future, and to institute a style of play that can elevate the existing talent on the roster—and, perhaps even more importantly, make the Bulls an attractive option for top-tier free agents for the first time in ages (though I suppose that depends on whether you considered the 2016 versions of Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo 'top tier')."

Kenny Atkinson provided the blueprint for Donovan.

The Brooklyn Nets were basically starting from square one when he took over in 2016. In just three years, Atkinson turned Brooklyn into a playoff team. D'Angelo Russell, Caris LeVert, Joe Harris and Jarrett Allen made noticeable strides in their games, and that put the Nets in position to sign Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

Most Bulls fans don't have any misconceptions about the road ahead. They won't expect immediate success. The implementation of a clear long-term vision across the front office and coaching staff should be more than enough.