With the NBA regular season officially concluded, the coaching carousel has begun to whir.
Friday, Arturas Karnisovas axed Jim Boylen, catalyzing the 24th coaching search in Bulls history. The next day, the New Orleans Pelicans followed suit by canning the beleaguered Alvin Gentry, according to ESPN.
Lump in the Brooklyn Nets, who may be in the market for a new coach to replace interim Jacque Vaughn, and suddenly, the field for top candidates’ services is a bit crowded.
At first glance, that’s admittedly a bit alarming for the Bulls, especially for those that pushed for the team to part ways with Boylen sooner. Consider the New York Knicks, who filled their coaching vacancy during the COVID-19-induced hiatus with old pal Tom Thibodeau. The Knicks executed and completed a fairly wide-ranging search expeditiously and with no competition. At the time, Boylen was still employed, and Gentry and Vaughn were gearing up for restart action in the NBA’s Disney World bubble.
Now, the Bulls will rub shoulder-to-shoulder with the Nets and Pels at the career fair. And as attractive as the Bulls gig should be to prospective candidates, it’s clearly the third-best of that bunch. The Nets are poised for immediate title-contention when Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant return next season. The Pelicans have Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, a healthy blend of complementary young talent and vets, and a trove of draft picks with which to build.
The Bulls offer a collection of young (albeit unproven) talent, cap flexibility next offseason, an even draft-capital budget, newly-minted, autonomous management and big-market appeal. A solid pitch. But, again, third-best.
So if you’re feeling a tad queasy, Bulls fans, that’s alright. But take heart. Not all is lost.
For one, there isn’t much evidence that the Bulls will even be competing for the same pool of candidates as the Nets and Pelicans. NBC Sports Chicago has confirmed Kenny Atkinson, Wes Unseld Jr., Darvin Ham, Stephen Silas and Ime Udoka as initial candidates in the Bulls’ search (read about them here). More will undoubtedly emerge, but hold that list up against the names the Pelicans’ are reportedly taking first glances at, and a dichotomy appears (Atkinson overlaps, but the point stands):
As @wojespn reported last week, two names expected to be in the search are Ty Lue and Jason Kidd.— Andrew Lopez (@_Andrew_Lopez) August 15, 2020
Another name to watch - if the Nets don’t retain him - is Brooklyn’s Jacque Vaughn. https://t.co/wlqGMtxBCo
Another name to watch that makes sense for the Pelicans to interview - former Brooklyn coach Kenny Atkinson.— Andrew Lopez (@_Andrew_Lopez) August 15, 2020
Remember, Pels GM Trajan Langdon was with the Nets throughout Atkinson’s tenure.
Meanwhile, the Nets have been linked to Lue for months, as first reported by Yahoo! Sports’ Vincent Goodwill.
To be clear, it’s early to speculate too deeply into any of these teams’ fully-formed thinking regarding their respective coaching searches. But what we can glean so far is something we all already knew: The Bulls are in a completely different strata of the NBA’s hierarchy than Brooklyn and New Orleans. The latter two clubs are ready to compete now, thus opening the door to consider proven, veteran candidates — in the case of the Nets, specifically, candidates with the ability to massage the egos of their two mercurial stars.
And while the Bulls certainly shouldn’t turn their noses up at anyone qualified, the names they’re reported to be looking at scream ground floor of a rebuild. Outside of Atkinson, the common threads are candidates with strong player development and relationship backgrounds, lengthy assistant coaching resumes and high-level NBA pedigree. Untested in the big chair, sure, but highly-regarded and with fresh perspectives to offer.
Perhaps that’s just fine. The Bulls haven’t executed a fully-fleshed out coaching search since the Thibodeau hire, and casting the net wider than the quick-twitch, mainstream faces is prudent. All of the names floated so far are worth buzzing over.
The search is on, and it could prove contentious, but hold the alarm bells for now. Karnisovas and Co. have their work cut out for them.