If the NBA ever returns to normal, the Chicago Bulls might finally have a modest advantage when it comes to actually being competitive. Over the course of the past spring and summer, the Bulls have moved on from their archaic front office, and possibly into the modern NBA. As much as we want to debate about “back in my day” from all of the older millennials and Gen X’ers who got to enjoy the 80’s and 90’s, not only is the NBA schematically different, but so are the players in how they arrive to the league, and how front offices and staff’s mesh with them.
As much as LeBron seems to run the NBA in a clandestine fashion, 98% of the NBA players now have come up through AAU ball or have had limited college experience. In turn, they want coaches who are open communicators, and not grizzled hard asses. These guys want to work, they want to get better. Similar to how some college football coaches struggle when the get to the NFL because grown ass men making near a million dollars don’t want a boot camp environment either. Point is, there is more than one way to coach a player and communicate with them, just because it’s different doesn’t make it worse.
This all starts at the top, and it began with some foresight by owner Michael Reinsdorf, finally sitting back and realizing “What in the hell is everyone else doing that we are not?”. The old Bulls front office led by GarPax was like the old man who only leaves his house to go to the store or the VFW for happy hour. You’re not getting a whole lot of different viewpoints and conversation. Even though “GarPax” hit on some good late round picks in the likes of Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson, there are too many misses (Tyrus Thomas for LaMarcus Aldridge?!), and deciding to take 4-year college players in lieu of players with more potential during the mid 2000’s. Or my favorite: let’s hire Fred Hoiberg for a modern pace and space offense, then sign the corpses of Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo!? Like what in the actual hell???. The debacle of the whole league getting a shining light inside the corpse that was the Bulls during All-Star weekend was enough for the guys that write the checks.
Without changing for the sake of change, but doing so to catch up with the league, they basically canned (but kept on as an advisor?!) John Paxson, who had been running the Bulls since 2003. He was replaced with Arturas Karnisovas in charge as President of operations and soon after he hired Marc Eversley as GM. Both of these guys had been around the league in different roles, and had plenty of connections. They understand how the league ticks both from a schematic, but also scouting, and player development standpoint. Look real hard at those last two words, because if you noticed that none of the Bulls no. 7 overall draft picks really got any better, well there ya go.
Finally, after a long 4 months, the Bulls canned Jim Boylen, who I don’t have room to bash this guy, but google any article about him and it is not good. When your coaching peers and players on other teams talk about how bad you are with people in general, you gotta go. With this being said, the Bulls have finally filled the third slot in their newly changed hierarchy, finally by going after Billy Donovan. Donovan had a two decade career at Florida, including a hot run in the mid 2000s with Joakim Noah and Al Horford, which garnered him back to back titles.
Donovan is known as a Rick Pitino acolyte having played under him in college, and he worked for him at Kentucky. Donovan made a big career change in 2015, jumping to the NBA, and being relatively successful in his transition in Oklahoma City. Despite some consecutive first round exits, players under him and around the league speak fondly of Donovan. When a coach like this is available, you have to pounce…..
What will the Bulls look like?
Arturas Karnisovas can be considered persistent. He politely harassed Donovan, flew down to see him, and gave him a dump truck full of money. From most sources, the biggest attraction to Donovan, and also vice versa, was a shared vision, and the open lines of communication. The Bulls have some nice talent on their roster, and far be it from me to assume that they will sit pat next season. However, I think all parties involved from front office to coaching, would like to see how Donovan can get the current pieces to fit, and put them in situations to thrive. It’s no different from a football coach building their offense on what their players do well, instead of saying “Run my system!”. (The last quote did not work well for Mike Martz in Chicago a decade ago. It’s weird how different a system runs when 4 Hall of Famers aren’t in it. Also: Mike Martz is overrated.)
It’s this last scenario where there might be more than meets the eye. Donovan’s tenure on Oklahoma City was marked by coaching superstars, and basically being forced to meld his plan around them. From Durant his first year, to Chris Paul the last two, to Paul George in between, people in NBA circles are still waiting to see what a Billy Donovan team looks like. Chicago might he his chance to mold a young team that aren’t not necessarily entrenched superstars by no means, but haven’t gone on the NBA radar as being legitimately threats or under All-Star consideration. Yet.