It’s finally happening.
Michael Reinsdorf and the Bulls organization are slowly, but surely, on the hunt for a new general manager to take this rebuild to another level. The fans are getting impatient, and clearly - the players are getting impatient. An extreme level of dysfunction lies within this team.
The titles of John Paxson and Gar Forman’s jobs are almost guaranteed to be changing - and hopefully for the better. However, one name whose job security has been barely mentioned is head coach Jim Boylen.
If a new front office is put into place this summer, the position of head coach will certainly be under review. Sure, there is a chance Boylen still has his job next season, but chances are he is bought out of his contract to pave the way for someone new.
Let’s take a look at three potential candidates that would make perfect sense for the Bulls if an action was to take place. Whilst some are known for their extreme understanding of the game, others are known for having an ability to create a culture and play to their younger players' strengths, in order to ensure greater development.
Becky Hammon is known as one of the greatest WNBA point guards of all time. Despite going undrafted back in 1999, she had a lengthy career as a player. One of seven WNBA players to hit 5,000 career points, 6x All-Star appearances, All-WNBA appearances, and her jersey retired by the San Antonio Stars. Her resume as a player is top-notch, and her resume as a coach is just getting started.
She began in 2013 by attending San Antonio Spurs’ practices, meetings and games, where she was frequently asked to voice her opinions on all matters. A year later, Gregg Popovich hired her as an assistant coach to his team, becoming the second female assistant coach in NBA history.
Since then she has had a much louder voice in how the Spurs operate being Gregg Popovich’s lead assistant coach. She’s been on the bench for the Spurs for six seasons now and worked her way up their coaching ranks. Hammon won a Summer League title as head coach of the Spurs back in 2015, was on the 2016 All-Star game coaching panel, and back in 2017 was interviewed for the general manager role of the Milwaukee Bucks.
Hammon is praised league-wide by many for her terrific basketball mind. She has a reputation as an ‘outside-of-the-box thinker’ who appreciates practical application of situational strategy but also the pursuit of new and innovative ideas in order to adapt to a modern style of play, something the Bulls have tried for years, but have failed seemingly every time.
NBA legend Pau Gasol also opened up on the emphasis Hammon had on him by saying "I’ve played with some of the best players of this generation, and I’ve played under two of the sharpest minds in the history of sports, in Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich. And I’m telling you: Becky Hammon can coach. I’m not saying she can coach pretty well. I’m not saying she can coach enough to get by. I’m not saying she can coach almost at the level of the NBA’s male coaches. I’m saying: Becky Hammon can coach NBA basketball.”
While taking over from Popovich in the next few years when he hangs the boots up may be the most logical thing to do, the idea of becoming the head coach of a young, rebuilding team may be enticing to Hammon. She would have the opportunity to coach in one of the biggest markets and global brands in the world and would become the first female head coach in NBA history.
If the Bulls are seriously interested in a complete culture change, Becky Hammon may be one of the better ways to go.
Widely praised as one of the best young tacticians in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague, Sarunas Jasikevicius is no stranger to being recognized as an elite basketball mind. Of Lithuanian descent, Sarunas’ accolades as a player certainly line up. The crafty point guard was the FIBA EuroBasket MVP in 2003, won multiple championships with FC Barcelona (the team former Bull Nikola Mirotic plays on), and he won the European Player of the Year award back in 2004.
Sarunas also enjoyed a sharp career in the NBA. He played regular rotation minutes with the Indiana Pacers and also spent time on the Golden State Warriors before being bought out of his deal to return back home to Europe and chase his basketball dreams in Greece, where he won three titles and an MVP at age 36. Impressive.
His accolades as a player line up nicely, similar to Hammon. However, being an experienced head coach is what gives Jasikevicius an edge. Sarunas is the head coach of the EuroLeague team, Žalgiris, and was heavily credited for getting his team to the final four two years ago, despite having one of the weakest rosters in the league. He’s extremely passionate, tactically fantastic, and prides himself on getting the most out of his players.
His coaching style itself involves a lot of off the ball movement, something the Chicago Bulls have lacked for years. His after timeout plays are regarded as some of the best in the world. Jasikevicius is great at getting his players to abuse switches on ball screens, and his ability to punish a defense in general with his fast tempo play is what makes him one of the greatest minds in the EuroLeague right now.
If the Bulls want to play fast-moving off the ball, play a lot in transition, and punish defenses for switching (yes, that means you Lauri Markkanen!) then Jasikevicius is the way to go.
He has already been linked to the NBA previously, with Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich offering him a role on his coaching panel, but the opportunity of being the head coach at an NBA level in a huge market may entice Jasikevicius to make the move from Europe to the United States.
The news broke recently that the Brooklyn Nets were moving on from head coach Kenny Atkinson. That said, any chance for the Bulls to land him is a chance they have to take.
Atkinson is a real culture changer.
Atkinson is the classic example of the grinder coach, the lifelong gym rat who has only known sweat equity as the fuel to his climb to the top of his profession. He cares for his players and he cares about his team. When he first began the job with the Nets back in 2016, Atkinson’s job was simple. Create a new culture. Make the Brooklyn Nets fun again.
And make them fun they did.
Brooklyn as a team had a swagger about them. They had a bunch of team-first players, they had a bench mob, they had one of the most intriguingly standout home courts in NBA history. The Nets had a different vibe about them, and Atkinson played a huge part in that. He was a part of the reason that superstars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant chose to sign in Brooklyn, over other teams like the Knicks, and Atkinson’s ability to create a winning culture was respected heavily by other coaches around the league. He’s a team genius.
Last season, he led the Nets to their first playoff appearance since 2014. They scrapped that entire season through and finished with a 42-40 record, good for the sixth seed in the East. Kenny Atkinson’s ability to mesh with the players and create a winning environment played a huge part in that success. He practiced with the players and maintained key relationships with them, something vital in creating a competitive NBA team.
I always felt like I got along with every guy on every team I’ve been a part with, whether you’re the 17th guy or the first guy. I can’t change who I am, because the guys will spot that right away. You have to be yourself. And even once I realized that we were getting some incredible players, that’s what I knew. I had to be true to who I am.
One player who developed extremely well under Atkinson is now Minnesota Timberwolves guard, D’Angelo Russell. Russell took an All-Star leap under Atkinson last season, averaging 23.6 points and 7.0 assists and thrived playing in his system which involved an efficient offense, a very high pace, and a team-orientated defense that got the job done on most nights.
The Bulls rank 28th in offensive rating this season and ranked 29th last season. Atkinson could really help get the best out of players like Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen, especially the latter who has struggled under Boylen this season.
Other players have high praise for Kenny too. “It’s hard not to be motivated with Kenny because everything he does is so genuine,” says Joe Harris, one of three Brooklyn players now in their fourth season under Atkinson. “Some coaches will give you the rah-rah stuff and it’s just for show. But it doesn’t matter what Kenny’s doing, he’s trying to kick people’s ass.
Aside from being a complete team-first guy, offensive genius and player development maestro, another thing that could be vital in luring Atkinson to the Bulls is that his lead assistant from last seasons’ playoff team, Chris Flemming, is also now the Bulls’ lead assistant. Both maintained a consistent relationship and were vital in constructing Brooklyn’s heavy (but not too heavy) analytic orientated offense and team-first defense.
Could a Brooklyn reunion be underway, but this time in Chicago?