It’s not often that you’re talking remote learning with the new head coach of the Bulls, but such are the extraordinary times in which we live.
An outbreak of COVID-19 on campus forced the youngest of Billy Donovan’s four children home and to online classes. Which, in some strange way for these strange times, seemed consistent.
After all, her father is about to embark upon a major remote learning class of his own.
Donovan isn’t joining the Bulls’ “bubble” for their voluntary group workouts that everybody under contract but Kris Dunn, who is protecting his pending free agency, is attending. Hypothetically speaking, by the time Donovan traveled from his home in Florida to Chicago and cleared the testing and quarantine period, the sessions would be over.
So instead, Donovan, while staying in daily communication with executive vice president Artūras Karnišovas and general manager Marc Eversley, will work remotely. He’ll study film. He’ll talk draft, free agency and personnel.
And perhaps most importantly, he’ll begin reaching out to players, trying to establish the foundation for relationships. It’s this skill that most who know Donovan well say is his best — the ability to demand excellence from players and hold them accountable because he has earned their trust by his people and relationship-building skills.
And the fact that Donovan is reserving judgement or the urge to make proclamations about, well, really anything until he gets to know said players speaks volumes. Sure, Donovan owns core beliefs. But his ability to adapt to the personnel he is given defined his five-season run in Oklahoma City.
So what offensive style will the Bulls employ? Will the defense feature a blitz-heavy scheme to guard pick-and-rolls?
“Never having coached any of these guys, there has to be some trust that’s built up,” Donovan said. “I think you build that trust by working on the relationship piece of it. I’m more than willing to do that with all the guys. I want to help them continue and grow as players.”
If this sounds familiar, it should.
Here’s Karnišovas from June 6: “In order for me to keep players and coaches accountable, I have to have personal relationships with them. That’s what I need to cultivate. That’s my objective this offseason.”
This is all part of the player-centric vibe that Karnisovas and general manager Marc Eversley have hammered as a theme since their hirings. Donovan may be as well-versed in that modern-day NBA dynamic as anybody, having coached such strong personalities as Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant or coach-on-the-floor Chris Paul.
But Donovan also extracted more out of the 2019-20 Thunder than most preseason predictions expected. He did so by, along with his staff, helping develop the youth on the roster and putting players in the best position to succeed.
That’s his goal for the Bulls now too. But in order to do so, he has to get to know his players first. The uncertainty surrounding the 2020-21 start date affords him time.
Fire up the Zoom video chats. Get the unlimited text plan. Class is in session.