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Billy Donovan’s top priority as Bulls’ coach? Fix an underachieving roster

According to executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas, the hiring of Donovan was a no-brainer as soon as the coach hit the open market.

Getting the most out of his players will be the first priority for new Bulls coach Billy Donovan.
Getting the most out of his players will be the first priority for new Bulls coach Billy Donovan.

There is gold on the Bulls’ roster. Executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas is sure of that.

What he has to figure out is whether it’s the kind of gold he can turn into an NBA title or fool’s gold.

It’s not an easy assessment for him to make, considering the chaos the organization has been operating under in recent seasons.

So what do you do to see through the muck? Hire whom you believe to be the best head-coaching candidate on the market.

‘‘I’m happy to announce the hiring of Billy Donovan as head coach of the Chicago Bulls,’’ Karnisovas said in a Zoom call Thursday. ‘‘I could not stop smiling from the moment we agreed on a deal.’’

The Bulls are a week into their minicamp/bubble, but intrasquad scrimmages just started Wednesday. Karnisovas said he thinks he inherited a talented roster, but he’s still evaluating it.

The early feedback is that the Bulls underachieved under former coach Jim Boylen and needed a more respected coach to lead them.

‘‘When we sat down and talked about the roster, I thought that this roster is [more] talented than what they showed the last two years,’’ Karnisovas said. ‘‘We have a lot — from [draft] picks to cap space in the future — to build this team. So I think there was a lot of optimism.

‘‘Looking at the roster, we spent a lot of time talking to Billy about offense, about defense, about the way he values relationships and how he rallies players around him and how he gets a buy-in from them. . . . So it was an easy decision to land on Billy.’’

It was a decision that happened quickly. According to Donovan, the day after he and the Thunder mutually agreed to part ways after five seasons, he loaded up his car and made the 17-hour drive to get back to his family in Florida.

Karnisovas happened to get a tired Donovan on the phone, fresh off the long ride, and said he wanted to come down and meet with him that Friday. Donovan asked for the next Monday instead, and the rest is history.

‘‘So [Karnisovas] and [general manager] Marc [Eversley] came in on Monday, and we probably shared 5œ hours together in person,’’ Donovan said. ‘‘I think all the things [they] said, I really valued and were really important to me.

‘‘The conversations we had just off the start was really important to me because I wanted be in a situation where everybody is rowing the boat in the same direction, everybody is pulling together, everybody is working for the same cause, there’s a lot of really good dialogue and communication.

‘‘I think as a coach, you are a part of it. You’re a part of it all the way through, from top to bottom, and I think Arturas was looking for that, looking to partner with somebody as a coach to try and continue to develop and build the program.’’

So when will the partnership officially start? That’s tricky, considering all the rules and regulations surrounding the coronavirus and the latest bubble.

But Karnisovas showed the new way of Bulls business is going after the best in the business — coach, front-office staff and, eventually, players.

‘‘This is an opportunity for our organization to walk alongside a great coach who brings tremendous leadership to the table,’’ Karnisovas said. ‘‘And to build a foundation for a sustainable program that Bulls fans can be proud of.’’