Billy Donovan, Chicago Bulls

Getty Head coach Billy Donovan of the Chicago Bulls.

The Chicago Bulls are clinging to their ninth-place standing in the Eastern Conference.

They are only in that spot because of their head-to-head tiebreaker over the Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks have won six of their last seven outings including beating the Bulls on April 1. They also have the same record as the Bulls after beating the Detroit Pistons on April 3.

Conversely, the Bulls have dropped five of their last seven games and have just two home games remaining. Both home games are against the current No. 5 seed, the New York Knicks.

And yet, despite their slide, don’t expect any changes at the top.

“If the Bulls survive the play-in tournament and make the playoffs, expect a bring-it-all-back mentality,” the Chicago Sun-Times’ Joe Cowley wrote on April 3. “If they fall short in the play-in, however, it’ll get interesting.

“[Head Coach Billy] Donovan is 100% safe, so expect the coaching staff to come out unscathed.”

This isn’t a total surprise. Donovan received a contract extension before the 2022-23 season, with The Athletic’s Darnell Mayberry citing the head coach “restoring order” as a prime reason.

“The Chicago Bulls signed head coach Billy Donovan to a contract extension before the start of the season, league sources told The Athletic,” Mayberry wrote in November 2022. “Donovan succeeded in step one of his duties, which was to restore order within the Bulls and bring the organization back to respectability. He has been rewarded for doing so.

“Last season’s 15-win improvement and subsequent playoff appearance clearly meant a lot in the minds of management.”

The Bulls are on pace for a worse finish than last season, when they failed to make it out of the Play-In Tournament. Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Arturas Karnisovas vocalized his expectations for improvement before this season.

Like Donovan, Karnisovas received a contract extension. His deal also only came to light in a report from Mayberry in May of 2023.

Both extensions came amid questions about Donovan and Karnisovas’ ability to lead a contender.

Arturas Kanrisovas Had ‘Green Light’ to Fix Bulls

“Have we always played great? No, but they’ve always tried to respond and get better,” Donovan said, per Cowley. “[The injuries are] a big hit when you look at it financially. It’s no excuse. I do think the front office will at least look at the totality of the year and what happened, where we’re at in terms of how you shore up things where maybe there’s a little more depth.”

The Bulls’ 5-14 start and struggles leading up to the trade deadline hadn’t shaken ownership’s confidence in Karnisovas.

That could go a long way in explaining the continued safety of Donovan’s job.

“The odd part is: Typically in such circumstances, a coach may be on the hot seat or perhaps management could be in trouble,” NBC Sports Chicago’s K.C. Johnson wrote on November 24. “But … Karnišovas has been given the green light to try to fix the current mess.”

Karnisovas hasn’t signed off on a trade for an established player since August of the 2021-22 season.

There might be a good reason for that after mixed results in recent deals.

Billy Donovan, Bulls Burned in Arturas Karnisovas’ Past Trades

They shipped Lauri Markkanen to the Cleveland Cavaliers in a three-team deal with the Portland Trail Blazers. That deal brought back Derrick Jones Jr. – who left in free agency this past offseason – and a lottery-protected first-round pick that is won’t convey this season.

Acquiring DeMar DeRozan has proven wise by the organization’s standards. The two sides have expressed interest in a contract extension.

Lonzo Ball was a smashing success too until a knee injury wiped out the last two-plus seasons.

Daniel Theis, Javonte Green, and Troy Brown Jr. contributed at least as much as Daniel Gafford and Chandler Hutchison, for whom they were traded. Green signed a 10-day contract on March 23 and may have played himself into a roster spot for the postseason.

The trade for Nikola Vucevic is the one that stands out. The Bulls re-signed the two-time All-Star big man to a three-year, $60 million contract before free agency this past offseason.

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Critics slammed the deal as short-sighted.

It may look less attractive on the trade market than was initially believed after Vucevic’s regression as a shooter this season. His 28.6% clip from deep is his lowest mark since the 2015-16 season.

Add in their troubles in moving Zach LaVine – for myriad reasons – and there could be a combination of factors leading Karnisovas to be shy about signing off on another major trade.

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