New Chicago Bulls executive Arturas Karnisovas and current Denver Nuggets assistant coach Wes Unseld Jr. know each other well.
They spent several years in Denver together building the now Western Conference Finalist darling Nuggets. Unseld Jr. is one of many candidates for the Bulls head coaching vacancy, and that familiarity with the guy making the hiring decision has to give him an inside track on at least some of the other candidates.
On Tuesday night after dismantling the Clippers, Nuggets head coach Mike Malone said that his assistant Unseld should be a head coach while also crediting him for Denver’s stingy defense in that series:
“He manages our defense. I trust Wes to do his job. Our defense in the last three games has been phenomenal,” Malone said. “To hold that team to 33 points in the second half? I think last game they scored 35 in the second half. Against the highest-rated offense in the first round of the playoffs? That’s unheard of.
“We gave them a gameplan. We made the adjustments. Our players bought in and went out there and got the job done. It speaks volumes about our group.”
Back when Unseld Jr. inherited the Denver defense, they were in the bottom third of the NBA. The improved to 16th in defensive rating during the regular season this year, and then gave up less than 100 points in both Game 6 and Game 7 against the Clippers.
Unseld has also been credited with helping to develop guys like Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, and Michael Porter Jr., with Murray also showering praise on Unseld Jr’s coaching chops.
Then in a Tuesday tweet, ESPN insider Adrian Wojnarowski did something typical for him - praise coaches - but given the context it may signal that Unseld Jr. is a leading candidate to be the next coach of the Chicago Bulls.
Denver assistant Wes Unseld Jr., — architect of Nuggets defense in incredible comeback vs. LAC — made an even stronger case for Bulls’ job. Chicago’s EVP Arturas Karnisovas already thought highly of him, working with Unseld in Denver. Malone: “Wes Unseld should be a head coach.”— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) September 16, 2020
In a coaching search with no shortage of candidates, signs seem to point to Unseld Jr. standing out among the rest. As Joe Cowley noticed in The Sun-Times, “several sportsbooks have taken down the odds on the next Bulls coach because of all the one-sided action being put on Nuggets assistant coach Wes Unseld Jr.”, and Coby White kinda let slip that his team is narrowing down the search this Friday.