If the offseason wasn’t enough of an indication that the Chicago Bulls had shifted their focus from overhauling the roster to sustaining what they had built in the last two-plus seasons, their move to sign head coach Billy Donovan to a multi-year extension surely is.
The signing seems to speak volumes about vice president of basketball operations Arutras Karnisovas’ push for continuity and the direction of the franchise.
“Donovan succeeded in step one of his duties, which was to restore order within the Bulls and bring the organization back to respectability,” wrote The Athletic’s Darnell Mayberry, whose colleague Shams Charania reported on November 29 that Chicago had extended Donovan during the offseason. “He has been rewarded for doing so.”
Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but it appears the Bulls are all-in on Donovan.
‘AKME’ Seems Secure After Donovan Deal
With Donovan’s extension, which comes roughly a quarter of the way through the third year of his current four-year pact, it appears Karnisovas isn’t going anywhere anytime soon either. The same could be said for general manager Marc Eversley — the other half of the “AKME” nickname adopted by Bulls fans — who has helped craft a roster that got to the playoffs last season.
“There are two things that are working in their favor,” an Eastern Conference executive told Heavy Sports’ NBA insider Sean Deveney before the deal was reported. “One is that the ownership there has a lot of loyalty to the people they hire. … Maybe to a fault sometimes, but it is a good thing for Arturas. There are not going to be any knee-jerk reactions.
“The other thing is that the team was such a mess with Gar Forman and John Paxson,” the exec said. “It was hard to watch things deteriorate there. So the fact that they won 46 games last year, that they have a direction, that they have a team that should be competitive, that is a nice change from where they were three years ago.”
In the 2021-22, the second year of the Karnisovas-Eversley-Donovan regime, the Bulls’ win total jumped by 15 and the team snapped a four-year playoff drought.
Overall, Donovan has an 86-88 record as Bulls coach, including a 9-11 start to this season that has the Bulls sitting in 12th place in the Eastern Conference, a half-game out of a playoff spot.
Karnisovas has already stated his expectations for Donovan’s team, which was knocked out of the first round of last year’s Eastern Conference playoffs.
“Artūras Karnišovas, asked what his expectations are for this season, essentially said winning a playoff series because he said team must show improvement over last season,” tweeted NBC Sports Chicago’s K.C. Johnson in September.
Clock Still Ticking
Just because the front office and head coach appear secure doesn’t mean that there won’t still be significant changes to this team as early as this year’s trade deadline.
“They have not been healthy and they have kind of leaned on that excuse,” noted the executive. “But the problem is, eventually, no one is going to want to hear it. ‘We have not had our full team,’ works for like a half-year. After that, you need results.”
If the coaches and front office are locked in, that only leaves the roster for changes to come and the Bulls are riding out White and Nikola Vucevic’s final year in their respective contracts while also having to navigate the absence of Lonzo Ball until further notice and manage LaVine’s knee injury following arthroscopic surgery this summer.
LaVine will be in Chicago barring a trade request, so the changes would likely come elsewhere.
Ownership hasn’t appeared to be keen on change for the sake of change, but there could be more work yet to be done on this roster.