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Top Candidates to Replace Jim Boylen as Bulls’ Head Coach

An anlaysis of four coaches who have the potential of being the new head coach of the Chicago Bulls.

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Assuming Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley agree with the Bulls fanbase and pay attention to some of Jim Boylen’s inadequacies as head coach, the Bulls should have a new person at the helm in the next few months.

Below are four head coaching candidates we think are potential fits for the role. Two of these candidates have been mentioned for several months as potential Jim Boylen replacements, while the other two are wild-card options that may have less of a chance of happening.

Fellow Bulls On Tap aficionado Duke Coughlin joins me in discussing these candidates and their fit as the Bulls’ next head coach. We also dive into the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate as well as the chance each coach finds themselves on the sidelines of the United Center next season.

Adrian Griffin

  • Head Coaching Career: n/a
  • Assistant Coaching Career:
    • Milwaukee Bucks: 2008-2010
    • Chicago Bulls: 2010-2015
    • Orlando Magic: 2015-16
    • Oklahoma City Thunder: 2016-2018
    • Toronto Raptors: 2018-2020 (won NBA championship in 2019)
  • NBA Playing Career:
    • 1999-2008 (2004-05, 2007 with Bulls)

Justin: Adrian Griffin is my choice to be the next head coach of the Chicago Bulls. He is the candidate that is most overdue for a head gig and has experience with the Bulls, both as a player and an assistant coach under Tom Thibodeau.

He also has championship pedigree, winning a ring with the Raptors in 2019. Furthermore, he has a connection with Karnisovas as they were both teammates at Seton Hall in the early ’90s, so if hired, they should work well together.

Duke: Adrian Griffin is a very strong coaching candidate and is likely the top target of the front office. A longtime NBA vet, Griffin knows how to deal with superstar caliber players. He helped develop players like Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler and also spent time working with Russell Westbrook and Kawhi Leonard. The hope would be that he would use his abilities to mold raw talents like Zach Lavine, Wendell Carter Jr., and Lauri Markkanen.

The biggest question concerning Griffin is his lack of head coaching experience. The Bulls just tried a similar strategy with current head coach Jim Boylen. I’d imagine Karnisovas and Eversley will be considering candidates with prior experience as well.

Ime Udoka

  • Head Coaching Career: n/a
  • Assistant Coaching Career:
    • San Antonio Spurs: 2012-2019 (won NBA championship in 2014)
    • Philadelphia 76ers: 2019-20
  • NBA Playing Career:
    • 2003-2011 (Lakers, Knicks, Blazers, Spurs)

Justin: I don’t know much about Udoka. He’s from the Popovich coaching tree, but that doesn’t always mean good things (see Jim Boylen). He does, however, have a connection with Marc Eversley from his time with the Sixers and has a reputation for relating well with players. He reportedly had a large role to play in bringing LaMarcus Aldridge to the Spurs.

He was also credited with Philly’s defensive system which ranked sixth in defensive rating this season. Maybe he would be willing to come to Chicago to be Griffin’s right-hand man? It seems like he’s a few years away from being fully ready for his first head coaching job, but I would trust Eversley if this is who he wanted.

Duke: Udoka falls into a similar situation as Adrian Griffin as one of the hottest assistant coaches on the market. His familiarity with Coach Popovich’s system is a hot commodity, especially considering he’s played in the system. This would certainly be a defensive hire, as Justin referred to the 76ers having a top-ten defense, with Udoka receiving credit around the league for his system.

Due to the Sixers’ underwhelming season, it could prove to be a bit of a stretch that Udoka is seriously considered. However, he could be prepared to look for greener pastures and a team with a young roster to mold. Chicago certainly fits the bill.

Dave Joerger

  • Head Coaching Career:
    • Memphis Grizzlies: 2013-2016 (147-99 record)
      • 3 playoff appearances (Best Finish: Conference Semifinals, 2015)
    • Sacramento Kings: 2016-2019 (98-148 record)
    • Total: 245-247 record
  • Assistant Coaching Career:
    • Memphis Grizzlies: 2007-13
  • NBA Playing Career: n/a

Justin: Joerger has the most impressive resume out of any candidate on this list. He took the Grizzlies to the playoffs all three years he coached them and improved a Sacramento team, almost taking them to the playoffs in his third year.

But he does have a history of clashing with front office personnel. So, while he is a very good coach, I don’t think it’s worth the risk to bring him into an organization with a history of coach-front office tension.

Duke: This is my personal favorite out of the potential candidates. I’ve been very vocal about the Bulls hiring a head coach with previous experience since the Fred Hoiberg experiment failed. Simply put, Dave Joerger fits the bill. Working his way up through years in the G-league, he led the Dakota Wizards to a championship in 2007. That championship win earned him a job on the bench with the Memphis Grizzlies, where he served as an assistant until his eventual promotion to head coach. Joerger was 9-13 in the playoffs as a head coach, preaching aggressive defense and a work ethic respected around the league.

While things did not go great out in Sacramento, he led the team to their best record since the 2005-06 season before being fired in April 2019. While his resume can be looked back on with mixed reviews, his playoff experience and brand of hard-nosed, no-nonsense basketball would be a breath of fresh air for the Bulls.

Kenny Atkinson

  • Head Coaching Career:
    • Brooklyn Nets: 2016-2020 (118-190 record)
      • 1 playoff appearance (2019, 1st round)
  • Assistant Coaching Career:
    • New York Knicks: 2008-2012
    • Atlanta Hawks: 2013-2016
  • NBA Playing Career: n/a

Justin: Atkinson did a good job in Brooklyn, taking a 20-win team in his first season of a rebuild to an above .500 record last year alongside a playoff appearance. Brooklyn was in a playoff spot when Atkinson resigned from the team in March after rumors of losing the locker room.

He obviously has experience re-calibrating an organization’s culture, but rumors are he is the front-runner for the Knicks job, where he began his assistant coaching career 12 years ago. Atkinson is my number two choice behind Griffin, but I think this is the least likely candidate to get hired.

Duke: If Thibs doesn’t get the job out in New York, I think the Knicks jump on Kenny Atkinson. Last season was a magnificent one considering the expectations, with players like D’Angelo Russell, Joe Harris, and Jarrett Allen. Atkinson has shown he has what it takes to get the most out of his players, but it was obvious with the signings of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving that Brooklyn wasn’t prepared to take the long-term approach. Atkinson officially stepped down as head coach back in March.

The one major difference with Kenny compared to the rest of the candidates is his market value. Atkinson can essentially wait for his ideal situation to open up, potentially holding out for more power within an organization or the right amount of money. I find it unlikely that he would take a job with a power-driven front office like the Bulls, but the young roster still holds appeal.


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