Chicago Bulls: Donovan ‘never had respect of the star players’ in OKC

Former OKC Thunder head coach Billy Donovan will be the fourth head coach in the last six years for the Chicago Bulls, after his hiring this week.

The recent hiring of former Oklahoma City Thunder and Florida Gators head basketball coach Billy Donovan was a huge move by the Chicago Bulls new front office regime. They officially hired Donovan to be the next Bulls head coach, and replace former head coach Jim Boylen, on the afternoon of Sep. 22.

According to a piece from Erik Horne of The Athletic this week (paid content), one of the bigger issues for Donovan in OKC was that he never really held the “respect of the star players”. From Kevin Durant, to Russell Westbrook, and then Chris Paul, Donovan did coach up a good number of star players during his five seasons with the Thunder.

A big reason why the Thunder parted ways with Donovan was the lack of postseason success. He never made it further than the Western Conference Finals during his five years with the Thunder (and they only made it that far once). Donovan finished up his time as the Thunder head coach with a regular season record of 243-157 (.609 winning percentage). His playoff record with the Thunder was 18-23 (.439 winning percentage).

The other big reason why the Thunder likely parted ways with Donovan was the fact that they could soon be jumping into full rebuild move. If the Thunder trade Paul this offseason, then rebuild mode should be in full effect. They’re likely to also move on from standout veteran forward Danilo Gallinari.

But the fact that Donovan never meshed the best with star players like KD and Russ in OKC isn’t all that surprising. Donovan developed as a college head coach, and that can happen sometimes in the transition to the NBA coaching ranks. KD and Russ have also proved to be hard to coach up in the past.

The Brooklyn Nets already parted ways with former head coach Kenny Atkinson in a surprise move in the midst of the 2019-20 regular season to make way for a candidate largely more to the liking of KD and point guard Kyrie Irving. The Nets wound up replacing Atkinson with former Phoenix Suns two-time MVP and point guard Steve Nash as their next head coach.

However, the good news in this situation for the Bulls is that they don’t really have that same dynamic with their current roster that the Thunder did in Donovan’s initial three years at the helm. Shooting guard Zach LaVine would have to be considered their biggest star, and point guard Coby White might have the brightest future. But it doesn’t seem like it will be all that difficult for Donovan to mesh better with this roster than Boylen did.

Boylen seemed to be one of the least popular head coaches both in the Windy City and around the NBA. His constant antics and fumbles became old fast with the fans and in the media. He also led the Bulls to a record of just 22-43 for the shortened 2019-20 season, good for 11th place in the Eastern Conference standings.

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Boylen registered a record of 39-84 over the course of his two years as the Bulls head coach. Donovan is a major upgrade, despite any baggage he brings with him from the past. He’s a proven winner at both the college and NBA levels which was something that both former Bulls head coaches Boylen and Fred Hoiberg were not.