Arturas Karnisovas "could not stop smiling" when Bulls landed Billy Donovan

The EVP of Basketball Operations, along with General Manager Marc Eversley, “didn’t expect him to be available.”
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later

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Once Billy Donovan became a coaching free agent, Arturas Karnisovas told media on Thursday that he was "relentless" in convincing him Chicago was his best landing spot.

Billy Donovan doesn't smile much, but his presence can't seem to stop Arturas Karnisovas from revealing his happy face.

"I could not stop smiling from the moment we agreed on a deal," the Bulls Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations told media during a Thursday morning Zoom conference.

Karnisovas was resume deep in a coaching search Sept. 8 when Donovan and the Oklahoma City Thunder surprisingly announced Donovan would not return with the end of his five-year contract and the Thunder's seventh-game playoff elimination in Orlando by the Houston Rockets. Rumors and speculation was Karnisovas after perhaps a dozen preliminary coaching interviews had narrowed his list to several top NBA assistant coaches and former Nets coach Kenny Atkinson. Karnisovas said he immediately edited his list to include Donovan.

"We didn't expect him to be available," Karnisovas acknowledged. "Once he became available, right away we reached out to Billy and asked if he was available to go through this process. He agreed and here we are."

Billy Donovan

That's with a new Bulls coach coming off a five-year run with Oklahoma City during which his teams won more than 60 percent of their games and Donovan, who was co-coach of the year in 2020 named by the coaches' association, established a league wide reputation for strong communication and relations with players.

"With all of our research and background, certain things emerged regarding Coach Donovan," Karnisovas said. "The most impressive being the relationships he's built with players, coaches and [executives] that have worked with him over the years. He has built a reputation around the league as someone who values others and has a great passion for growing and developing players. Those that have played for Billy trust his coaching acumen and perhaps more importantly trust him as a person. In all of my conversations and my personal meetings with Billy, two things stood out: First, he's a great communicator and values his relationships with others, and second, he has the ability to inspire enthusiasm in others to strive for a common goal. He believes deeply that it's about the journey and who we're with that matters."

Donovan said he drove back to his permanent home in Florida after the Sept. 8 Thunder announcement, a 17-hour trip.

Marc Eversley and Arturas Karnisovas

General Manager Marc Eversley and Arturas Karnisovas

He said Karnisovas immediately was on the telephone asking to meet by Friday of that week. Donovan said he requested a bit of time to decompress. Karnisonas and General Manager Marc Eversley flew to Florida Monday Sept. 14 to meet. Donovan said by Tuesday night they had an agreement.

"We evaluate the coaches who can give you the best chance to succeed and build this program," said Karnsiovas. "Once he became available, Billy was identified by our group as the guy. The next step was to sell it to Billy. We were relentless in terms of trying to find ways to continue communication and prove to Billy that we are the (best) next landing spot and we were able to do it."

Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations, Arturas Karnisovas, introduces new Head Coach Billy Donovan to the media in an online press conference

Though Karnisovas is loath to detail plans, he indicated the team's future will be considerably reliant on the talent they have.

"We spoke about different ways of building a program from the draft to trades to free agency and the biggest attention is player development," said Karnisovas. "We have to develop our own players. They have to get better in order for us to succeed. To talk to Billy, we were on the same page the way he believed as well. And want to do it together. Watching him coach last year, I think it's one of the most impressive jobs he did. His ability to adapt, to adjust, to change things based on his roster and what he has was really impressive regardless of the (personnel) turnover. I think the successful programs have consistency and continuity. We've got to get to the point of consistency, to sustain certain guys for a longer period of time and have a chance to develop those guys.

"From Billy's resume to him being just a great human being, I think I'm going to go after the best (talent) available regardless of my relationship with a person," said Karnisovas. "I'll do all the background checks, I'll do all the calls to make sure I'm getting the right guy. Billy was the guy for us."

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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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