It can be easy to forget but professional sports, and life in general, are about people. The impact one can make day-to-day will always trump what someone does on a basketball court but the two often intertwine.
There are surely many opinions of Chicago Bulls head coach Billy Donovan, now in his third year at the helm of the on-court product.
In that span, Donovan has gone 85-88; not bad given where the Bulls were upon his arrival.
But, as the winds of change swirl around a struggling Bulls team, it was none other than Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault – whose Thunder handed Donovan’s Bulls a 123-119 loss – that had nothing but positive things to say about Donovan, whom he has known since their days coaching together at the University of Florida.
Donovan Welcomed Daigneault
“I love coaching against him,” Daigneault said before the game, per Joe Musatto of The Oklahoman, “and I loved coaching with him,”
Daigneault was on Donovan’s staff at Florida and then again for a year with the Thunder before taking over Donovan’s position. The latter stepped away from the position amid offers to renew his contract to pursue other opportunities as the Thunder entered their current rebuild.
But it wasn’t exactly coaching that Daigneault highlighted as he spoke glowingly of Donovan.
“I had a couple of our staff members over…yesterday,” Daigneault said noting Donovan’s door was always available, “and I’ve definitely taken that from him, the feeling you get when someone opens their doors to you. Christine and him have always done that. Beyond coaching the game, there’s certainly an impact he’s had on me.”
Daigneault raved about the man, the coach apparently made an impact on him as well. He is getting the most out of his young group that’s dealing with injuries just as Donovan has tried to do the last few seasons, albeit with an older bunch of players.
Donovan is 3-2 against his friend and former protege over the last two-plus years with both losses coming in overtime.
The loss also brought back some other old sentiments from Donovan about leaving OKC.
Bulls Record Puts Spotlight on Donovan
Donovan’s career record with the Bulls can be partially attributed to injuries and COVID. This season is no different as the Bulls are trying to survive without Lonzo Ball and manage Zach LaVine’s knee following offseason surgeries for both.
LaVine has played in each of the Bulls’ last eight games as the schedule has allowed for more rest but Ball remains without a clear-cut return date or even a true timeline.
All of this leaves Donovan’s current situation much like his old one and for the wrong reasons.
It is impossible to blame Ball or LaVine’s knees on Donovan. Likewise for Patrick Williams’ wrist or Alex Caruso’s various injuries last season, and Coby White’s throughout his four-year career including this season in which he’s already missed eight games.
But, in his third year, the potential exists for Donovan to be the Bulls’ “fall guy”, writes Zach Harper of The Athletic.
Did they put together this roster thinking it was a championship contender some day, or did they put it together to just be good, in the mix and maybe try to pounce on acquiring a disgruntled star at some point? If it’s the former, then Donovan would absolutely be the fall guy when the Bulls are not even making it to the conference finals.
Mayberry did say that if the Bulls are realistic about their chances, Donovan would be safe.
He added the caveat of the players tuning Donovan out but, given their back-to-back wins over the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks, does not seem to have happened yet.