Chicago Bulls nearly made disastrous head coach hire in 2020

Billy Donovan, Chicago Bulls (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Billy Donovan, Chicago Bulls (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

Following Jim Boylen’s tenure as head of the Chicago Bulls, it’s hard to believe that the franchise nearly actually hired a worse coach than the same Boylen who steered the team to an embarrassing 39-84 record. Of course, the man I’m referring to is Boston’s Ime Udoka, who was the reported front-runner for the Bulls’ job through much of the summer. Fortunately, Chicago decided to go a different direction and hired Billy Donovan in his stead.

During Chicago’s head coaching search in 2020, it was reported by Sports Illustrated that Udoka had a “strong interview” with the Bulls. Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times (subscription required) offered a concurring sentiment with this report, stating that Udoka was the “front-runner” to replace Boylen.

Once a respected assistant to the legendary Greg Popovich in San Antonio and a fine former role player in his own right, Udoka had everything going for him when Boston offered him the chance to take the reigns for the Celtics. As Brad Stevens stepped up into a front office role, the stage was set with a very talented team and stable organization for Udoka to succeed.

Just a few months removed from leading the Celtics to a 51-31 record and an NBA Finals appearance in his first season as head coach, Udoka has been dealt a shocking one-year suspension for violating the team’s code of conduct.

The Chicago Bulls nearly made a big mistake hiring Ime Udoka instead of Billy Donovan during their search for a new head coach in 2020.

It’s extremely rare to see a team take such drastic measures to reprimand their own personnel. Without getting into the controversial details of what may or may have not occurred, extramarital affairs with a co-worker are never a good look, regardless of the circumstances. Several media personalities, including former NBA player Matt Barnes, have hinted at far worse implications behind the scenes that may explain why Udoka received such a harsh sentence.

Despite the fact Udoka had a successful first season on the court, the Chicago Bulls have to be thankful they dodged this fiasco by bringing Donovan on board. Donovan certainly deserves some credit for his own success too. Unlike Udoka, he inherited a roster in poor shape that looked nothing like a playoff contender.

Despite having the same core players following the Jimmy Butler trade, Donovan vastly outperformed his predecessors. Here’s a look at how Donovan’s winning percentage as head coach stacks up against former head coaches Boylen and Fred Hoiberg.

  • Donovan (’20-’21): .431
  • Boylen (’18-’20): .317
  • Hoiberg (’17-18): .302

Obviously, Donovan would only continue to improve from here once the front office made splashy moves to acquire talented pieces like DeMar DeRozan, Nikola Vucevic, Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso, and Ayo Dosunmu. Donovan proved he can get the Bulls where they need to be — or at the very least, point them in the right direction — to re-establish Chicago as the basketball capital of the world.

There’s certainly a debate to be had if Donovan is the guy who can lead this team to a championship in a league that seems to get more talented and competitive by the year. But with two years left on his deal, it’s hard to argue with the results he’s shown thus far. If you’re not one hundred percent on board with Donovan, just remember, things could always be worse. He’s many things, but he’s not Fred Hoiberg, he’s not Jim Boylen, and he’s certainly not Ime Udoka.

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