NBA rumors: Bulls talking to several assistants

The Chicago Bulls were granted permission to speak with several assistants for the franchise’s head coaching job and interviews with candidates are well underway, sources told ESPN. No permission was necessary for former Brooklyn Nets coach Kenny Atkinson to interview, but new executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas and general manager Marc Eversley are talking to several assistant coaches still involved in the playoffs, including Milwaukee’s Darvin Ham, Denver’s Wes Unseld Jr. and Miami’s Dan Craig, sources said.

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Karnisovas and Eversley, who have held down league or front office positions since 2003 and 2006, respectively, have previously existing networks and relationships they trust. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that both men already have their eyes — and perhaps their hearts — set on a certain coach. But this is the NBA, where everyone knows there is one thing that gives certain head coaching candidates a leg up. “A call from Gregg Popovich,” the East scout said. “Hey, that’s the reality. Has he hired coaches? Yeah, he’s hired a lot of people around the league. So I think Ime has that advantage. I think Marc and Arturas are smart enough to understand that game. I know they are. But I mean, Pop is Pop. That helps.”
Most observers assume Griffin no longer has a shot in Chicago. But some still deem him deserving. “He 100 percent can be hired,” said a rival coach with a personal relationship with Griffin. “If the Bulls don’t hire him this year, another team will next year.”
Prior to the Nuggets, Unseld Jr. had assistant coaching stints in Orlando, Golden State and Washington — franchises that didn’t win much and didn’t have great cultures during his time with them. But his ties to Karnisovas can’t be understated. “That’s got to be working in his favor if he’s on the list,” the West scout said. “That means he’s got a favorable opinion of him, I’m sure. He’s seen him up close and personal. He’s seen him work.”
While the list of candidates may grow, several coaches and executives around the league believe there is one candidate who stands out amongst the current group – Atkinson. “I think the list will change, but out of the group mentioned, I think Kenny would be the favorite,” one general manager told HoopsHype. “Some of it depends on Arturas’ timeline, but Kenny can coach, and he can oversee player development. He will be able to compete on the court while also continuing to develop the young guys.”
“No brainer, Kenny Atkinson,” one NBA scout told HoopsHype. “It’s a young team. He will do for Chicago exactly what he did for Brooklyn. He’ll have them overachieve, outhustle and outwork teams on a nightly basis. They will be physical, smart, and tough to guard because they will share the ball. Plus, he’s a no-nonsense, direct, fair coach who relates very well to players. He’d be my pick.” In Chicago, Atkinson would be reunited with assistant coach Chris Fleming, whom he worked with for three seasons in Brooklyn.
Should Karnisovas consider hiring an assistant coach, Unseld Jr. is a prime candidate given their history with the Denver Nuggets. With the help of Unseld Jr., Denver’s defensive rating improved from 25th to 16th since being hired in 2015. “Kenny would be very good there,” another general manager told HoopsHype. “My gut is they go with an assistant coach that Arturas has worked with before. I think Unseld deserves a shot.”
“I think Vanterpool will be good if he gets an opportunity,” one former NBA executive told HoopsHype. “He’s a high-level player relator, which has been a piece they’re missing there.” Vanterpool was an assistant coach with the Blazers for six seasons while Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum emerged as one of the league’s premier backcourts. “Keep an eye on Ime Udoka,” an NBA scout told HoopsHype. “He’s a bright, young up and coming head coach candidate. It’s only a matter of time before he’s hired.”
Several candidates have emerged, including former Nets coach Kenny Atkinson, Nuggets assistant Wes Unseld Jr., Raptors assistant Adrian Griffin, Bucks assistant Darvin Ham, 76ers assistant Ime Udoka, Timberwolves assistant David Vanterpool, and Mavericks assistant Stephen Silas, according to multiple reports. While the list of candidates may grow, several coaches and executives around the league believe there is one candidate who stands out amongst the current group – Atkinson. “I think the list will change, but out of the group mentioned, I think Kenny would be the favorite,” one general manager told HoopsHype. “Some of it depends on Arturas’ timeline, but Kenny can coach, and he can oversee player development. He will be able to compete on the court while also continuing to develop the young guys.”
“Kenny is the move,” one NBA assistant coach told HoopsHype. “He’s done this job before with less talent. This is a player development job. They have talent that needs to be developed and utilized. There is more there than people think.”
Vanterpool and Udoka received some praise from talent evaluators. “I think Vanterpool will be good if he gets an opportunity,” one former NBA executive told HoopsHype. “He’s a high-level player relator, which has been a piece they’re missing there.”
Vanterpool was an assistant coach with the Blazers for six seasons while Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum emerged as one of the league’s premier backcourts. “Keep an eye on Ime Udoka,” an NBA scout told HoopsHype. “He’s a bright, young up and coming head coach candidate. It’s only a matter of time before he’s hired.”
The biggest name to watch is Ime Udoka. Currently the Philadelphia 76ers’ top assistant coach under head coach Brett Brown, Udoka has familiarity with new Bulls general manager Marc Eversley while Eversley was an executive with the Sixers and carries a strong reputation around the league Over the next few weeks, league insiders are keeping an eye on the situation in Philadelphia as the Sixers have underwhelmed for the second straight season. If the short-handed Sixers lose in the first round, Udoka could be in line for a promotion with the Sixers.
But as the Sun-Times learned this week, even if Karnisovas didn’t like what he would have seen from Boylen he would likely be handcuffed from making a change. According to several sources, there is strong growing momentum that financial concerns the Reinsdorfs have about the 2020-21 NBA season will keep Boylen in his current seat, as well as most of the coaching staff.
The Knicks are the only team without a coach and sources indicated the Bulls are expected to stand pat with Jim Boylen. “In trying to be thorough and doing everything perfectly, the Knicks are dragging it out to a new level,’’ one NBA source said. “I believe they know who they’re going to hire, always have. They just need to make sure.’’
The fact that Karnisovas has full autonomy to reshape basketball operations is being called into question from some corners now that he’s been on the job for over three months and not fired coach Jim Boylen. Multiple outlets, including NBC Sports Chicago, have reported Karnisovas indeed owns the authority to recommend a coaching change to ownership, the standard leaguewide protocol for such decisions.
Boylen is under contract for two more seasons. Ownership likes him. It’s unknown if fans will be allowed in arenas at the start of next season. One rumor is that the 2020-21 season start will be pushed past December if there’s a date when it’s known fans can attend — and thus provide gate revenue for teams again.
So Karnisovas has chosen the route to empower Boylen and his staff for now. As previously reported, Karnisovas has told Boylen to focus strictly on coaching. No more worrying about dealing with player agents. No more worrying about meet-and-greets with season-ticket holders.
Management has sought Boylen’s input on player development strategies, according to sources. There have been discussions regarding the draft and free agency. Boylen has watched voluntary workouts at the Advocate Center with Karnisovas and Eversley, and they’ve dined together as well.
Any negative player feedback regarding Boylen, which on Monday featured a jab from backup center Daniel Gafford as he streamed himself playing video games, it seems management is trying to offset by creating a positive, inclusive atmosphere. That atmosphere has included Boylen, who sources said visited White in North Carolina as part of Boylen’s normal offseason routine to build relationships with players. For now, those visits are on hold with so many players in-market and COVID-19 cases spiking again.
The Chicago Bulls have agreed on a multi-year contract extension with coach Jim Boylen, league sources told ESPN. After replacing Fred Hoiberg in December, Boylen had agreed on a short contract that would take him through the end of the 2019-2020 season, but this new deal will replace it. Bulls ownership and management consider Boylen the teacher the franchise needs now with a young roster, and loved the way he's been able to build relationships with players along with holding them accountable and coaching them hard.
After Hoiberg's firing in December, Boylen was promoted from associate head coach. From the beginning, the Bulls made it clear that they would likely not be conducting a coaching search in the offseason, electing to make Boylen coach instead of an interim. Boylen had a tumultuous beginning to his tenure as head coach but eventually started to show improvement as players began to respond to his hard-driving coaching style. Zach LaVine, who was skeptical of Boylen's coaching-style early on, has since said that he has learned to trust the first-year coach. In March, LaVine went so far as to offer to pay an ejection fine for Boylen.
Asked about the future of coach Jim Boylen and a possible contract extension this offseason, Paxson responded, “It’s very possible. It’s very possible. In fact, I’ve spoken to both Jerry and Michael [Reinsdorf] about addressing that and I don’t know what the timing will be, but I envision Jim being our coach here and us committing to him, yes.’’
According to a source, the Bulls and Boylen have already been discussing a three-year contract extension to keep him in that head coaching chair, and now it’s just a matter of finishing up the details and deciding when to announce it.
In light of Hoiberg’s imminent hiring, some speculation immediately surfaced that the Bulls, who now will only owe Hoiberg roughly $1.5 million, may look to eat that money and Boylen’s remaining salary for next season and look for a new coach. But nothing has changed as far as management’s and ownership’s positive view of Boylen’s teaching habits in practice and holding players accountable, a source said.
Eric Walden: Boylen, on his reworked deal: "The Bulls have been very gracious to me and very supportive. … They're fair and honest and direct, and I respond to that well." And on the struggles of his team: "I've been disappointed lately in our defense. That's what's gonna hold us through."
The Chicago Bulls are guaranteeing only $1 million in salary for Jim Boylen's contract for next season, leaving the franchise financial flexibility should it decide to make a coaching change in the offseason, league sources tell ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Malika Andrews.
In the revised deal, Boylen will make $1.6 million next season if the team keeps him as head coach, league sources said. He already was guaranteed nearly that $1 million in his previous contract as associate head coach.
A team source told the Sun-Times on Saturday that Boylen has not only received a bump in pay since he took over from Fred Hoiberg on Dec. 3, but that bump includes him receiving “a contract beyond this year.’’ The source was asked if the contract went past next season, and did not comment, but it was later confirmed that it was just through 2019-20 for now.
Now that Boylen has been bumped, any notion that they have plans to move on from him leading into the 2019-20 campaign is all but flat-lined. Board chairman Jerry Reinsdorf has never been a fan of handing out dead money to former coaches, let alone pay for two coaches through 2020, as well as taking on the salary of a new hire if they did remove Boylen at the end of the regular season.
KC Johnson: Jabari Parker on the coaching change: "I can’t choose sides. Me choosing sides and saying who has strengths and weaknesses is bad on my end. I just have to do my job."
On an afternoon in late September, the Chicago Bulls head coach was fulfilling his media obligations prior to a preseason practice. As Hoiberg answered questions about his team, his lead assistant, Jim Boylen, called the players into a huddle at the other end of the gym -- beginning practice without Hoiberg. Once Hoiberg noticed, he mumbled a goodbye and rushed over to join the rest of the team. Fast forward two months and Boylen -- the Bulls' new head coach after Chicago fired Hoiberg on Monday morning -- will now be running practices on a full-time basis.
Bulls management called Boylen on Sunday night to inform him of the coaching change. Hoiberg arrived at the Bulls' training facility on Monday morning prepared to lead the team's practice. Instead, Hoiberg was informed of his dismissal -- something management wanted to do face to face -- and Boylen called the team into a huddle.
KC Johnson: FWIW, was told reason Bulls waited to tell Hoiberg today is because of a "human element" and they wanted to tell him in person, face-to-face. Boylen told us he got call about job last night. As previously reported, Hoiberg arrived today prepared to run practice.
Joe Cowley: Paxson says they love Jim Boylen’s passion, and he’s “a teacher of the game.”
The Chicago Bulls have fired head coach Fred Hoiberg after a 5-19 start to the season. Associated head coach Jim Boylen has been promoted to head coach.
Adrian Wojnarowski: Associate head coach Jim Boylen will take over as the permanent head coach of the Bulls to replace Fred Hoiberg, no interim title, league source tells ESPN.
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