Bulls coach Billy Donovan doesn’t have set exit strategy on his career

While some coaches have a plan for when they want to walk away from the game, that isn’t the case with Donovan, who received an extension from his organization.

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Billy Donovan

SAN FRANCISCO — In the wake of word leaking this week that he’d signed a contract extension with the Bulls before the regular season, coach Billy Donovan was asked Friday about his career longevity and if he has a stop date in mind.

After all, Donovan, 57, has been going at it since 1989, when he became an assistant at Kentucky, and he never has been fired, a rarity for a coach at any level.

“When I was younger and I first started working, and I was with coach [Rick] Pitino, he would always say, ‘Hey, 50, 55 years old, that’s it for me, right?’ ” Donovan said with a laugh. “Here he is 70, still doing it.”

Donovan suggested he’ll keep going, too, especially given his relationships with Bulls personnel, the front office and ownership.

“I do think as you get older, the years are draining — they are,” he said. “[But] for me, when the year is over with, it’s, ‘OK, what are you excited about? Do you tweak this? Tweak that? Did you get better here? Get better there?’ Whatever it may be — coaching, team, what we’re running — as long as I’m inspired by that and enjoy that challenge, I’ve never really put a timeline on it where [it’s], ‘This number, I’m done — I don’t care what happens, and that’s it for me.’

“What I love is when you’re with a group of guys on a team and you’re trying to work towards a common goal. There’s a level of sacrifice that goes into that by everybody.”

Donovan also had a good relationship with his bosses in Oklahoma City. But when his contract was up after the 2020 season, he and the Thunder mutually agreed to go their separate ways, especially with the Thunder wanting to go young and rebuild.

Arturas Karnisovas, the Bulls’ executive vice president of basketball operations, wasted little time in pursuing Donovan then. The recent multiyear extension means he’ll stick around well beyond next season, after which his original contract was set to expire.

What’s Donovan’s shelf life now?

“If I wake up and it’s, ‘You know what? I don’t like working in this environment, I don’t feel we’re working together, we’re all separated, so far apart,’ that’s when the joy of the job gets totally taken away,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate that I haven’t had that: ‘I’m wiped out, I’m drained, [so] I’ve [only] got a few more years left.’ As long as I continue to enjoy it, I’m going to do it.”

Night watch

It has been awhile since “Zach LaVine” and “knee load management” have appeared in the same sentence, but that doesn’t mean LaVine is out of the woods with that protocol. The spreading-out of the Bulls’ schedule has just put things on hold.

Donovan said Friday that although LaVine has participated fully in all recent practices and shootarounds, there’s still constant dialogue about his availability after surgery on his left knee in the offseason.

As long as there are no setbacks, the next real test will come in a few weeks with back-to-back games against the Mavericks and Hawks.

“It’s not like every back-to-back, he’s going to sit one of them,” Donovan said. “But it’s definitely going to be evaluated. Absolutely.”

LaVine has sat four games this season because of load management.

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