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Bulls to hire Billy Donovan as next head coach

a surprise first coaching hire from the new Bulls front office

Oklahoma City Thunder v Milwaukee Bucks Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

In a late afternoon Woj bomb, it was reported that the next head coach of the Chicago Bulls is going to be Billy Donovan.

Donovan recently became available after his former team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, were eliminated from the Western Conference playoffs. He wasn’t fired, but his contract was up and the reports were that it was an amicable spit between him and the Thunder, who were looking to a rebuild.

So that immediately brings to mind what the Bulls intentions are in terms of their desire to immediately compete. If Donovan wasn’t looking to coach a rebuild, why is he coming to the Bulls? Is it merely that the Bulls are more in the ‘build’ than the ‘teardown’ phase?

Additionally, Donovan choosing to take the Chicago job may also inform us of how much money the Bulls are spending on coaching. Donovan commanded a high salary when he was plucked from the college ranks before the 2015-16 season, and the Thunder are notoriously spendthrift. But so are the Bulls, famously choosing to go with first-timers over those with a lot of experience like Donovan. Maybe the overall coaching market as been depressed to the point where the Bulls can compete for top candidates, or maybe they’re actually spending?

In terms of timing, it looked like the Bulls were narrowing things down late last week but Donovan wasn’t considered a frontrunner. Instead primed assistants like Wes Unseld Jr. and Ime Udoka, especially given their prior history with Bulls (purported) head man Arturas Karnisovas.

So this is a surprise, and it’s a pleasant one: the Bulls didn’t box themselves in through cheapness at least.

And Donovan is well accomplished: over five seasons in Oklahoma City he has a winning percentage over 60% , though after a Western Conference finals appearance his first season his teams have been bounced in the first round the past four years. Donovan’s no doubt had great players in that time, but it’s worth noting that he’s had several different iterations to build around: first with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, then the Westbrook triple-double show, then Westbrook and known-choker-much-worse-than-Jimmy-Butler Paul George, and then this past season with a Chris Paul team. It was arguably Donovan’s best coaching job this season, and he finished 3rd in this year’s Coach of the Year Award voting.

There’s been deficiencies too: some questionable playoff tactics, and a less than stellar record in developing young players. But I think it’s a safe assumption that Donovan is competent, and that will be a significant improvement over the last head coach. The Bulls are in a really bad spot due to years of mismanagement: they not only have very little in talent, the talent they has been unable to be properly evaluated. You’d think with Donovan you at least provide some constant to that team variable.