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Jealousy, backstabbing, egos ... that’s in the past for Bulls

Jerry Reinsdorf-owned teams historically have experienced cold wars between coach/manager and the front office. But with the hiring of Arturas Karnisovas and coach Billy Donovan, those days finally might be over. And the winner in all of this? It might be a fan base that had grown tired of all the drama and fallout.

Bulls coach Billy Donovan appears to be working well with boss Arturas Karnisovas. That wasn’t always the case with previous Bulls coaches and front offices.
Bulls coach Billy Donovan appears to be working well with boss Arturas Karnisovas. That wasn’t always the case with previous Bulls coaches and front offices.
AP

This isn’t the norm for a Jerry Reinsdorf-owned franchise. There’s no backstabbing, no cold war brewing, no jealousy, no kissing up and telling the bosses whatever they want to hear.

It’s just two men — men who seem to actually like and respect each other — being themselves, communicating, discussing differences, all for the good of the team.

Could this be just a honeymoon phase for Arturas Karnisovas, the Bulls’ executive vice president of basketball operations, and coach Billy Donovan? Maybe. But when the agendas of two straight shooters are lined up like theirs are, it’s tough imagining this going bad any time soon.

Pick a Bulls or White Sox leadership battle under Reinsdorf. There have been some doozies. Hawk Harrelson vs. Tony La Russa. Ken Williams vs. Ozzie Guillen. Williams undermining Rick Hahn. John Paxson vs. Vinny Del Negro and his tie. Pax vs. Tom Thibodeau, with special guest Gar Forman playing both sides.

Karnisovas vs. Donovan? Not likely.

“I think he’s doing a great job,” Karnisovas said of his coach earlier this week. “I’ve watched all the media availabilities by him. . . . And I think the one question that’s always coming up is, ‘When do [the two of us] meet? When do they talk?’ We talk every day. We talk before every practice, we spend time during practices, talk after practices, before games, after games, so the communication is always there. I expected that and more, so there’s no misunderstandings from my side or his side.

“There’s always a clear understanding of what do we think after every game, how we can make this group better, what are the areas we can improve moving forward? So it’s unbelievable communication, and I’m thankful to have him around.”

It’s amazing how a relationship can work between an executive and a coach when egos aren’t brought in — and both men had reputations for working well with others before coming to Chicago. The talk around Karnisovas when he was the Nuggets’ general manager was that he was a relationship-builder who believed in investing in people, whether it was the star of the team or the winter intern in the public relations office.

Former Bulls star Joakim Noah, who played for Donovan at Florida, once told ESPN, “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.”

The easy relationship between Karnisovas and Donovan should have Bulls chief operating officer Michael Reinsdorf — who singled out Karnisovas as Paxson’s replacement — in a good mood these days. A well-liked front office working with a well-liked coach means the Bulls finally may be past the days of being a global brand that still can’t attract elite free agents.

Only great things to come?

“I would say one of the true blessings of being here is the relationship with him,” Donovan said, referring to Karnisovas. “Obviously, I really trust him basketball-wise, just his background as a player, his patience, the communication. He has been absolutely terrific to work with. And we talk a lot about the games, we talk a lot about practices, we talk a lot about how to help the guys get better.

“[I] appreciate his transparency and honesty and just the way he’s kept in close contact with me. Because you know, as a coach, you’re just focused on the team, the next game, the next practice, watching tape. But sure enough, every day he’s popping in my office [and] he’ll sit down and we’ll talk. And I’ll go up and see him. . . . It’s been great from my viewpoint, the way we’ve had a chance to work together. He’s been phenomenal.”