Last Friday, the Chicago Bulls made an announcement that was a surprise to almost no one, and that was that Jim Boylen would not be returning as head coach of the franchise. This move was a long time coming as the Bulls have been rebuilding their front office, as they hired Arturas Karnisovas as their new executive vice president of basketball operations. Even with Karnisovas coming in, the only logical move the Bulls could have made was dismissing Boylen after he went 39-84 in a year and a half on the job.
The Bulls now have the tough task of trying to find their next head coach. They are desperately in need of someone that is a good leader, has the desire to work with a young core, and can help develop young players. The Bulls currently have a solid core of young players with guys like Coby White, Wendell Carter Jr., Lauri Markkanen, and Zach LaVine. It’s so instrumental that the Bulls find someone who can help culminate the talent on the roster and make them a contender.
One candidate in particular that stands out as someone that would be able to get the Bulls back in the right direction and is an ideal fit to be the next head coach is former Brooklyn Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson.
When Atkinson was hired in 2016 to take over the Nets, he was coming into a team that was starting a rebuilding phase, had a massive lack of talent on the roster, and won only 21 games the previous season. In his first season, the Nets would finish with a record of 20-62, but one of the few bright spots was Brook Lopez who Atkinson encouraged to start shooting three-pointers, and he eventually finished the season shooting 34.6% from behind the arc.
The next season the Nets came into the year with some changes on the roster, as Lopez was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers for D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov. The Nets also had newcomers like Allen Crabbe, DeMarre Carroll, and their first-round draft pick Jarrett Allen, who was donned to be Lopez’s replacement.
This resulted in the Nets making an eight-game win improvement from the previous season as they finished the regular season 28-54. Other players like Joe Harris, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Caris LeVert were also players that showed some encouraging signs throughout that season.
The 2018-19 season was the year where the Nets took a huge step forward and made it back to the playoffs for the first time in three years. The Nets were led by Russell who took a big jump and raised his game to another level, as he averaged 21.1 points per game, 3.9 rebounds per game, and 7.0 assists per game, and was a finalist for the Most Improved Player Award.
Harris was another guy who took a step in the right direction for the Nets as he shot 50% from the field and 47.4% from the three-point line. The Nets finished the regular season 42-40 and were back in the playoffs as the 6th seed in the Eastern Conference. Unfortunately, their magical run came to a quick end, as they lost to the more talented Philadelphia 76ers in the first round in five games.
During the offseason, the Nets were able to acquire two superstar players in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving that had the whole world shocked and fascinated to see how it would turn out. The Nets also signed DeAndre Jordan as well to bolster their frontcourt. The biggest change was with the signing of Irving, as this meant that Russell would no longer be needed, and as a result, he went to the Warriors.
Going into the season, even though Durant would be out the whole season after rupturing his Achilles tendon in the 2019 NBA Finals, Irving was still fully healthy going into the season, and people were eager to see how Irving would fit into a new team, especially after coming off a hectic season with the Celtics.
For the Nets, things did not go as planned, as Irving only played in 20 games this year, LeVert missed games due to injury, and for the most part, the bench was not as strong for them this season.
This led to Atkinson being fired 62 games into the season as the Nets at the time were 28-34, although they were still the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. It had been rumored that possibly Irving and Durant had something to do with Atkinson’s dismissal, although Nets General Manager Sean Marks has said that the decision was mutual.
Despite his exit with the Nets, Atkinson is still the right man to be the next head coach of the Chicago Bulls. Atkinson could be able to develop Coby White, the same way he helped develop Russell, as they both have similar skillsets at the point guard position.
Atkinson’s former players have held him in high regard. “It’s hard not to be motivated with Kenny because everything he does is so genuine,” Harris said via NBA.com. “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 a–.”
He added to that by saying “He’s a competitor, and you can feel that,” Harris continued. “You can feel that when he’s talking when he’s going through [the] film when he’s talking about the Nets’ identity and those things. You know that it’s not BS. That’s what gets guys going and why he’s able to do what he does.”
Those characteristics are exactly what the Bulls need in the next head coach that they hire. Especially with a team that is full of young players that could probably use some discipline and someone who will always be honest with them. If the Bulls want to take a step in the right direction since they already got their new decision-maker with Karnisovas, now it’s imperative they find the right head coach, and that guy is Atkinson.