The Bulls’ coaching search is well underway, and the field appears wide open.
Eight external candidates — plus Bulls assistants Chris Fleming and possibly Roy Rogers — reportedly populate the interview pool. As far as patterns in that group go: Predictably, strong player-development and relationship-building reputations permeate, in keeping with Artūras Karnišovas’ priority criteria for the search.
Only Kenny Atkinson owns prior head coaching experience of the Bulls’ widely-reported candidates. But there are a plethora of qualified, longtime assistants looking for their first shot at a top gig, including Wes Unseld Jr., Darvin Ham, Dan Craig, Stephen Silas, Jahmal Mosley and Ime Udoka.
Udoka, specifically, has reportedly generated a bit of buzz down in the NBA’s Disney World bubble as it pertains to the Bulls’ opening.
“I think he’s a very, very strong candidate for [the Bulls’] job,” Sports Illustrated senior NBA writer Chris Mannix, who is in the bubble, said on the latest Bulls Talk Podcast. “There’s been a lot of chatter in Orlando about Ime and the Bulls’ position because, in part, the (Marc) Eversley connection from their days in Philadelphia.”
Indeed, the Bulls’ new general manager overlapped with Udoka in the latter’s first year as an assistant with the 76ers during the 2019-20 season. Before jettying to Chicago, Eversley served as the vice president of player personnel in Philadelphia for four seasons, reportedly playing a key role in predraft prep. And before landing in Philly, Udoka served seven seasons on Gregg Popovich’s staff with the San Antonio Spurs, adding to his desirability as a candidate.
His merits as a candidate shouldn’t be lost on his current employer, either. The 76ers just in August axed head coach Brett Brown after a first-round sweep at the hands of the Boston Celtics. Udoka — along with Tyronn Lue, Jay Wright and Dave Joerger — was reported by The Athletic as an initial candidate to replace Brown in the wake of his termination.
Only now, that vacancy might be on the verge of closing. Mannix, for one, recently wrote that he expects the 76ers to “move aggressively” on Lue, and that there is mutual interest between the two sides. On the same day, Jon Johnson of Philadelphia radio station WIP tweeted that the 76ers were close to inking Lue as their head coach. Johnson later clarified his tweet, saying that there was “no done deal.” But that’s a lot of smoke, and where there’s smoke, oftentimes there’s fire.
What does that mean for the Bulls? Nothing concrete, but it could mean one of their candidates staying available as Karnišovas continues his search.
Former NBA executive and current senior columnist at The Athletic John Hollinger sees the fit.
“Yeah, I think so,” Hollinger told Tom Haberstroh on the latest edition of “The Habershow,” when asked if he thought Udoka and the Bulls could make a successful partnership. “More of a development situation there in Chicago, rather than a win-now. I think it’s a hard sell in Philly to fire Brett Brown and then hire his top assistant… To me, maybe Chicago makes a little more sense.”
And the rumor mill continues to whir.