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Billy Donovan’s firing from OKC adds new layer to Bulls’ coaching search

The Bulls are expected to at least make a run at interviewing Donovan for the vacancy left after the Jim Boylen firing, as the former Thunder coach should easily skip to the front of the line.

Coach Billy Donovan parted ways with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Will Chicago be his next stop?
Coach Billy Donovan parted ways with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Will Chicago be his next stop?

Joakim Noah loved handing out assists from the center position.


They came a lot less frequently from the former Bulls big man, unless he was talking about Derrick Rose or Noah’s college coach, Billy Donovan.

“I think Coach Donovan is somebody who cares about his players, but really cares about his guys,’’ Noah told ESPN in 2015 when discussing playing for Donovan at Florida. “I know that if something ever happened to me, I know that 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. I got nothing but love for him. I have nothing bad to say about him. I think that he’s somebody who has great balance in his life . . . we’re very similar in a lot of ways in terms of competitiveness. But very different, as well. I love the guy.’’

The question now is how much does the Bulls’ new-look front office love the guy?’

The search for a coach took on some intrigue late Tuesday night, when the Thunder parted ways with Donovan after five seasons.

Multiple reports indicate that the Bulls likely are interested in Donovan, and a source on Wednesday confirmed it.

The good news? Donovan would be the most successful candidate among coaches with NBA experience. The bad news? Bulls ownership rarely puts the stamp of approval on something obvious, especially when it comes to coaching hires.

Bulls fans can rest easier, however, as this offseason has definitely been a Michael Reinsdorf production, and that means the chief operating officer putting his trust in new executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas.

Karnisovas has been busy conducting a first round of interviews that has been described as ‘‘vast’’ by one person with knowledge of the situation. The list includes Mavericks assistants Jamahl Mosley and Stephen Silas, the Sixers’ Ime Udoka, and former Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson.

Current Bulls assistants Chris Fleming and Roy Rogers also have met with Karnisovas and general manager Marc Eversley but are considered long shots.

With Donovan in the mix — and the Bulls aren’t the only team interested in him — it adds an entirely new layer to the search.

Unlike Atkinson, Donovan has actually won consistently at the NBA level. He finished his time with the Thunder with a .608 winning percentage and never finished below the .573 mark.

Donovan’s playoff numbers are less impressive (.439 winning percentage), but the Western Conference has been a powerhouse lately, and there’s an argument to be made that he overachieved with at least three of his five Thunder teams.

The same can’t be said about Atkinson, who seems to be more hype than substance.

In his four seasons with Brooklyn, Atkinson finished over .500 just once — 42-40 in the 2018-19 season — and was fired with a .383 overall winning percentage.

The concern is that several current and former NBA coaches have told the Sun-Times that Atkinson has a growing reputation as a bit of a self-promoter, and the Bulls just rid themselves of a guy like that when they fired Jim Boylen last month.

If it did come down to Donovan or Atkinson it would seem like a no-brainer.

Just ask Noah.