Why Wes Unseld Jr. is name to watch in Bulls coach search

USA Today

COVID-19 testing for voluntary group workouts at the Advocate Center begins Sept. 14, and workouts themselves Sept. 21.

Will the Bulls have a coach by then? Maybe. Maybe not.

“If that happens, it happens,” Artūras Karnišovas said the night of the NBA Draft Lottery. “But we’re not going to insist on that.”

Whenever Karnišovas and Co. come to a final decision, it’s possible the Bulls’ next coach will be something of an unknown quantity. Of 11 reported potential candidates (now including Billy Donovan), only two have prior NBA head coaching experience: Donovan with the Oklahoma City Thunder and Kenny Atkinson with the Brooklyn Nets. 

That makes nine assistants. Most are long-tenured and abundantly qualified to make the leap to the head coaching seat; recent successes in Utah with Quin Snyder or Memphis with Taylor Jenkins leave reason for optimism in that regard.

Still, the floundering of others (e.g. Jim Boylen) serve as a reminder that resumes are one thing. Execution is another. Bulls fans know that all too well.

“You just don’t know who’s going to be successful until they get into the job and actually do it,” The Athletic’s Darnell Mayberry said in an appearance on the latest Bulls Talk Podcast. “We can say we like this guy or we don’t like that guy. But we don’t know. The guy has to actually get into that seat and prove himself to be a success or a failure.”


With that said, Mayberry pinpointed Denver Nuggets assistant Wes Unseld Jr., whose team is still alive in the NBA bubble as of this writing, as a candidate of note for Bulls fans to keep their eyes on.

“I’ve been kind of saying lately that Wes Unseld Jr., I think, if he’s not going to be the guy, I think he’s probably close to becoming that guy because of the relationship he has with Artūras, because he’s been the lead assistant in Denver for the last three years or so, he’s helped with that defense, he’s helped with some player development,” Mayberry said. “Artūras has told us that he wants a guy to come in here and be good with player development, player relationships, a good communicator. And he (Unseld) checks all those boxes.” 

Indeed, Unseld's time as an assistant in Denver overlapped with Karnisovas’ tenure in the front office there for four seasons. Son of the late, great Wes Unseld, Unseld Jr. hails from lauded NBA pedigree, has reportedly been instrumental to marked defensive growth in Denver and, as Mayberry notes, has a strong reputation in player relationships and development.

Unseld Jr. also drew an interview for the Cleveland Cavaliers’ vacant head coaching seat in the 2019 offseason before the team opted for the John Beilein route. By all accounts, he’s ready to make the jump.

Will he make it for the Bulls? Time will tell. Interviews, at least, are underway.

For a breakdown of other head coaching candidates being considered — including Donovan and Atkinson — listen to the podcast here or via the embedded player above.