Tanks for nothing: Bulls coach Billy Donovan wants focus on winning

The odds say that the Bulls have a better chance of keeping their protected top-four pick out of the hands of the Magic than they do of making the playoffs. But Donovan and the front office aren’t hearing any of that.

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Bulls coach Billy Donovan.

Bulls coach Billy Donovan is not real interested in tanking over winning games, even if the numbers say that’s the direction the Bulls should be exploring. Neither is his front office.

Lynne Sladky/AP

Bulls coach Billy Donovan knows the math of the situation and what the odds scream out. But like the rest of the front office, he refuses to adhere to numbers over trying to win games.

He made that clear Sunday.

The Bulls are still on the outside looking in for a spot in the Eastern Conference play-in tournament, leaving them with a 12% chance to make the playoffs, according to FiveThirtyEight.com. The odds for them to retain a top-four pick in the NBA Draft — it’s protected and would go to the Magic as part of the Nikola Vucevic trade if it’s outside the top four — is 31.9%, according to Tankathon.com.

But Donovan insisted that tanking isn’t part of the Bulls’ vocabulary.

“I think even going back to my first year, when we were kind of in a similar situation coming toward the end of the year where it was going to be really hard — before they did the play-in — to even make the playoffs, and in those discussions it has always been about the integrity of competition,” Donovan said. “It’s been about going out there and doing the very best we can do as a group with the focus on getting the results that we want.

“I’ve never had a situation from ownership, front office, that said, ‘Listen, we’ve got an opportunity to potentially manipulate or get a higher draft pick. Let’s sit these guys. Let’s play the younger guys and give them an opportunity.’ That’s never taken place. So I respect that and appreciate that because I do think that when you line up and play there’s an integrity, and even to the fans, you’re out there trying to win.’’

That’s admirable, but it might not help add young talent, especially talent that could be generational, as in the case of this year’s draft.

Big man Victor Wembanyama, at 7-2 and blessed with the skills of a guard, could change the immediate direction of any franchise. Point guard Scoot Henderson delivers nightly highlights.

Alabama’s Brandon Miller has top-three talent — though its clouded by his situation off-the-court — and there’s a debate about who’s No. 4 among Amen Thompson, Jarace Walker and Nick Smith.

The Bulls have a 7.5% chance to land the top pick and draft Wembanyama, a 7.8% chance to land the second pick and an 8.1% chance for the third.

Donovan wasn’t having any of that.

“It was always about the integrity of building a culture and an environment that is predicated on what are the things that go into winning,” Donovan said. “That’s important in my opinion, where I stand. When you talk about winning and players in the locker room, and even people that come out and buy tickets, I think they want to see us put our best foot forward, making decisions that are going to put the group and team in the best position to win.”

Wellness check

Guard Goran Dragic missed his fourth consecutive game with soreness and swelling in his left knee. Donovan said the medical staff was trying to manage the injury moving forward.

Donovan also provided a vague timetable for forward Javonte Green, who’s recovering from surgery on his right knee. Green has started running straight ahead, and as long as there are no setbacks, he’ll start “dynamic running and cutting” by the end of next week.

The Bulls hope Green can get through that and possibly practice within two weeks.

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