The new era of Bulls basketball continued Tuesday with the hiring of Billy Donovan as the 21st full-time coach in franchise history, sources confirmed to NBC Sports Chicago.
The move caps an offseason of upheaval that began with Artūras Karnišovas and Marc Eversley replacing John Paxson and Gar Forman as executive vice president of basketball operations and general manager, respectively.
"We are very pleased to welcome Billy and his family to the Chicago Bulls. The success that he has sustained over the course of his coaching career puts him on a different level,” Karnišovas said in a statement. “We feel his ability to help his players reach their potential, both individually and collectively, will mesh well with our roster. Whether as a player or as a coach, he has won everywhere his career has taken him, and we hope that will continue here in Chicago.”
Donovan and his former employer, the Oklahoma City Thunder, mutually agreed to part ways with the expiration of his contract after the 2019-20 season, which ended in a seven-game defeat to the Houston Rockets in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. In five seasons with the Thunder, Donovan coached to a 243-157 regular-season record, good for a .608 win percentage, and made five postseason appearances.
“I want to thank Jerry, Michael, Arturas and Marc for the opportunity to coach the Chicago Bulls. I also want to thank them for the time and effort they put into this hiring process. I’m excited to partner with Artūras as we work together on behalf of this historic franchise,” Donovan said in a statement.
Karnišovas hired Pat Connelly to run his player development program and J.J. Polk as an assistant general manager in charge of the salary cap as part of a revamped front office that eventually will be further built out.
Karnišovas then followed through on his publicly stated vow to get to know beleaguered coach Jim Boylen, who had support from ownership, before firing him in August. All the while, the Bulls, who were not one of the eight teams eligible for the league’s 22-team restart on the Disney World campus in Florida, have been limited to voluntary individual workouts at the Advocate Center.
That will change on Sept. 23, when the Bulls will be officially begin voluntary group workouts at the Advocate Center as part of activities sanctioned by the NBA and National Basketball Players Association.
He lands the job following a thorough interview process that featured nine known candidates: Former Brooklyn Nets coach Kenny Atkinson; Denver Nuggets assistant Wes Unseld Jr.; Philadelphia 76ers assistant Ime Udoka; Milwaukee Bucks assistant Darvin Ham; Dallas Mavericks assistants Stephen Silas and Jamahl Mosley; Minnesota Timberwolves assistant David Vanterpool; Miami Heat assistant Dan Craig; and Bulls assistant Chris Fleming.
Last month, Karnišovas fielded a question on what his criteria for such a critical hire.
“In terms of what we’re going to be looking for, we’re going to continue focusing on player development and an emphasis on player development, someone who puts relationships with players first and is a good communicator,” he said on the night of the NBA Draft Lottery.
The work ahead remains large. As Jimmy Butler headlines the Eastern Conference finals with the Heat, the Bulls remain mired in the rebuild process that began when the previous regime traded away the All-Star forward. Injuries, unfulfilled potential and coaching missteps have placed the Bulls in the precarious position that called for such a dramatic facelift.
Karnišovas and Eversley both have expressed puzzlement at the underachieving aspect of a roster that features some promising talent in Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr. and Coby White. The Bulls own the No. 4 pick in the 2020 NBA draft to add to their stable of young — yet unproven — talent.