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Billy Donovan gets the nod as Bulls finally settle on a new coach

One day before intrasquad scrimmages begin in the Bulls’ minicamp, they have a new coach. Arturas Karnisovas continues to flex a go-big-or-go-home attitude.

The Bulls hired former Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan to replace Jim Boylen.
The Bulls hired former Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan to replace Jim Boylen.

Arturas Karnisovas has used the word “change’’ frequently since he was hired as the Bulls’ executive vice president of basketball operations at the start of the offseason.

He used it when he fired former general manager Gar Forman, again when he hired Marc Eversley to fill that job, and again when he dismissed Jim Boylen as head coach last month — always reminding reporters what he had been brought in to do.

The trend continued Tuesday with a hire of seismic proportions as Karnisovas showed these aren’t the same old Bulls, grabbing the most experienced, well-regarded coach on the market in Billy Donovan.

“We are very pleased to welcome Billy and his family to the Chicago Bulls,” Karnisovas said. “The success that he has sustained over the course of his coaching career puts him on a different level. We feel his ability to help his players reach their potential, both individually and collectively, will mesh well with our roster. Whether as a player or as a coach, he has won everywhere his career has taken him, and we hope that will continue here in Chicago.”

The new front office had hinted at this sort of new go-big-or-go-home attitude, but hiring Donovan is evidence that it isn’t just talk — not from Karnisovas and definitely not from chief operating officer Michael Reinsdorf, who has indicated that the basketball side of operations has an open checkbook to build a foundation that can return the Bulls to championship caliber.

“I want to thank [chairman] Jerry [Reinsdorf], Michael, Arturas and Marc for the opportunity to coach the Chicago Bulls,’’ Donovan, who will meet with reporters at a later date, said in a statement. “I also want to thank them for the time and effort they put into this hiring process. I’m excited to partner with Arturas as we work together on behalf of this historic franchise.”

The Bulls scooped up Donovan, 55, less than a month after he and the Thunder parted ways. He put together a record of 243-157 (.608) in Oklahoma City, with five consecutive trips to the playoffs. His winning percentage ranks 16th (minimum of 100 games) in NBA history, trailing only Nick Nurse (.721), Steve Kerr (.709) and Gregg Popovich (.675) among active coaches.

Karnisovas wanted a coach who understands player development and communication, and Donovan checks both boxes. Just ask former Bulls center Joakim Noah, who played for Donovan in college at Florida.

“I think Coach Donovan is somebody who cares about his players but really cares about his guys,” Noah told ESPN in 2015. “I know that if something ever happened to me . . . he would be there for me, and that’s a great feeling. I always felt like it was more than basketball with Coach Donovan. . . . He’s the best coach that I ever had.”

Karnisovas is banking on the current roster feeling the same way, especially with a voluntary minicamp going on now and scrimmages starting Wednesday. He wanted change, and change is happening.