The OKC Thunder have moved on from their coach Billy Donovan. With the coaching vacancy open should the Chicago Bulls pursue Donovan as their coach?
Former head coach Billy Donovan and the OKC Thunder have mutually parted ways as the two parties were not able to come to a long-term agreement. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Donovan declined a contract extension from the Thunder.
This is one of the rare cases where it actually seems to be mutual, as the specific phrase of “mutually parting ways” has been used for past Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets coaches in Luke Walton and Kenny Atkinson respectively, who pundits widely believe were fired with the blessing of their star players.
After five years with the franchise and with a regular-season record of 243-157 across his five seasons, Donovan has proven to be a great coach in the NBA. His playoff resume is less than stellar with an 18-23 record, but coming from two NCAA champions with the Florida Gators, Donovan has built an impressive resume in the world of basketball.
With the Thunder moving on from Donovan, teams have already expressed interest, The Chicago Bulls are one team that has a current vacancy for a head coach. The Bulls front office has finally moved on from drill sergeant Jim Boylen as under the “leadership” of Boylen the Bulls lacked any sort of faith in their coach, with multiple attempts during his reign tried to undermine him or demonstrate their frustration.
Wojnarowski has already reported that the Bulls could be interested as their current head coaching vacancy is still in the early stages of interviewing candidates.
Donovan has a lot of experience with talented players and managing egos in NBA, with experience developing and mentoring young players in the NCAA. This could bode well for the current Chicago Bulls roster. He would have the immediate respect of the Bulls players and the front office would not have to worry about an assistant coach learning the ropes of becoming a head coach.
This doesn’t mean he is a shoo-in for the position, as seen with the recent hiring of Steve Nash by the Brooklyn Nets. Aside from the usual suspects in the coaching carousel, there may be unknown elements ready to make the leap to head coach. That begs the question, is there a better candidate for the Bulls head coaching position or should Donovan be the No.1 candidate?
Despite the dire circumstances, Donovan took this team much further than anyone thought. This past season saw what many analysts predicted to be a tanking team in the OKC Thunder make the playoffs, after trading away Paul George and Russell Westbrook for (to quote Zach Lowe) “A million draft picks”.
Billy Donovan was left with a promising young guard in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari and Chris Paul on the wrong side of 30. Having the Western conference loaded with teams wanting to contend for a championship it only made sense for the Thunder to tank, right?
Instead, the Thunder finished the season with a record of 44-28 making it to the 5th seed in the Western Conference. With Chris Paul, the Thunder were the best clutch time team in the NBA and it wasn’t close via John Schuhmann’s article:
The Thunder have played a league-high 42 games that were within five points in the last five minutes. Of the Thunder’s 40 wins, 29 (73 percent) have been within five in the last five.
Chris Paul was the engine of that, but Donovan was voted the National Basketball Coaches Association’s co-coach of the year (along with Mike Budenholzer of the Milwaukee Bucks) for a reason. Coaches around the NBA acknowledged his ability to keep the ship steady in the regular season and in those tense moments.
Billy Donovan can help maximize the Chicago Bulls’ young core
This season, the Chicago Bulls had a net rating of –3.1, ranked 20th, and had the fifth-worst turnover percentage of any team in the league at 15.3 percent.
If Donovan can translate the on-court discipline to the Bulls’ core, the chances of getting into the playoffs are realistic as they were 22-43 in a weak Eastern Conference, 11 wins behind the 8th-seeded Orlando Magic.
The Chicago Bulls’ front office should be looking for a coach to help the development of their young core of Coby White, Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr. and Zach LaVine. Donovan has mentored the likes of Al Horford and former Bull Joakim Noah into NCAA champions with the Florida Gators.
However, Donovan has never seemed to maximize his stars within the NBA. Donovan has had a revolving door of elite talents play for him and he’s never fulfilled the ‘on paper’ greatest he was provided with.
Bulls.com writer Sam Smith added to this about Donovan
“The talk is he seems to defer to stars rather than hold them accountable and demand more. Almost to the point of fearing his best players, his playoff record being so much poorer than his regular season record reflecting that.”
All that being said, Donvan is a respected and mostly successful coach in the NBA. There are many great candidates that the Bulls could go after including previously mentioned, Kenny Atkinson where I outline why Atkinson is the best coach for the Chicago Bulls.
But, if Donovan is selected to be the Bulls new head coach it would be a sensible pick to become a foundational piece of a new era for the Chicago Bulls.