By secretly extending Billy Donovan’s contract, Jerry Reinsdorf does Bulls coach a disservice

Why not come out during fall camp in September and capture the news cycle by celebrating the decision to keep Donovan beyond next season when his original four-year deal was set to expire?

SHARE By secretly extending Billy Donovan’s contract, Jerry Reinsdorf does Bulls coach a disservice
Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf chose not to release news of coach Billy Donovan’s contract extension in the preseason, missing a chance for a positive news cycle for the Bulls.

Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf chose not to release news of coach Billy Donovan’s contract extension in the preseason, missing a chance for a positive news cycle for the Bulls.

John Raoux/AP

PHOENIX — Jerry Reinsdorf will never change, and we’re at the part of the movie where that’s clear.

The chairman of the Bulls and White Sox decided long ago to operate in the petty, especially in how he deals with Chicago media. That’s his choice, and his success has certainly earned him that right. While other owners of major-market teams such as the Cowboys’ Jerry Jones and the Mavericks’ Mark Cuban have understood using the media for the benefit of their product, Reinsdorf has treated Chicago media as a dirty piece of gum that he enjoys scraping off his shoe. 

It doesn’t matter to him that it’s a disservice to fans. But his latest move — secretly extending the contract of Bulls coach Billy Donovan in the preseason, the news of which leaked Tuesday — was also a disservice to Donovan.

First, it’s important to note all major decisions involving the Bulls and Sox must get Reinsdorf’s thumbs-up or thumbs-down. Son Michael has been given a huge amount of power in the Bulls organization, but even he admitted several years ago that his father has final say.

Second, an extension for Donovan barely registers as a surprise, given how in sync Donovan has been with Arturas Karnisovas, the team’s executive vice president of basketball operations, since they joined forces in 2020. It was a bigger deal when Reinsdorf hid the news about then-White Sox manager Rick Renteria’s extension in 2017. Unlike Renteria, Donovan was a made man since Day 1, just based on his résumé, both at the college and pro levels, and nothing had changed entering this season. 

So why extend Donovan in the shadows? Why not come out during training camp in September and capture the news cycle by celebrating the decision to keep Donovan beyond next season, when his original four-year deal was set to expire?

It’s not as though Reinsdorf has been bashful in releasing statements. In fact, he did so earlier Tuesday, saying farewell to fan-favorite Sox slugger Jose Abreu, who signed a three-year deal to join the Astros, while trying to save face by noting the Sox’ desire to keep him. Reinsdorf also released a statement the day Tom Thibodeau was fired as Bulls coach in 2015, knowing Thibodeau couldn’t fire back publicly if he wanted to collect the remaining $9 million still owed on his deal.

But with Donovan’s extension, there was no face to save, no bad light in which to frame anyone. Last summer, every roster move was accompanied by a message about “continuity.” Reindorf could have put a nice bow on it by also stressing continuity in the coaching staff with the Donovan news.

He missed that chance.

Donovan enters Wednesday’s game against the Suns with an 86-88 (.494) record since joining the Bulls after going 243-157 (.608) with the Thunder. Last season, he also led the Bulls to their first playoff appearance since 2017. For his part, he didn’t seek out the extension before this season.

“Very, very humbled,’’ he said. “Very appreciative, grateful. Arturas came to me over the summer to talk about it. We had that conversation. For me, it’s really important who I’m working with, who I’m working for. Love the relationships inside the organization.

“I don’t want to use words like ‘alignment,’ but I think we’re all on the same page as we see things.’’

Almost true. All on the same page except one. And unfortunately, he owns the page.

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