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Sixers’ Assistant Ime Udoka emerges as “front-runner” to become Bulls’ head coach

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New York Knicks v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s been no secret that the Sixers look up to the San Antonio Spurs. Which is why Brett Brown, a disciple of Gregg Popovich in San Antonio, was probably thrilled to pilfer one of his former mentor’s top consiglieres last July, in Ime Udoka. Udoka, a former NBA player, worked with the Spurs for 7 years before moving on. Last summer he was a head coaching candidate and interviewed for the Cavaliers job. Now it appears he’s been named as a “front-runner” for the Chicago Bulls likely head coaching vacancy, per Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun Times.

It makes some sense for Chicago. Things have not been smooth there under another member of the Popovich coaching tree, their scathing and discipline-minded Head Coach, Jim Boylen. Boylen has been said to rub some key Bulls’ players the wrong way. At times it appeared Boylen lost his locker room. Turning to Udoka would symbolize a transition to another San Antonio voice, albeit one without a reputation for domineering.

Bulls Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations, Artūras Karnišovas, inherited a tricky situation. As Cowley points out, the history of Bulls coaches leaving on rocky terms is a sordid one. Even legends like Phil Jackson and 2011 Coach of the Year Tom Thibodeou were seen to be mistreated by the organization on their way out. Karnišovas may want to change that perception by making a show of offering Boylen a fair chance, but ultimately still moving on.

The Bulls recently came under fire when some suggested they didn’t give a fair chance to black candidates in their search for a new team president. Per that piece by The Undefeated’s Marc J. Spears:

“It’s clear there is an underlying hypocrisy telling us the NBA is diverse, but when an opportunity comes, the process isn’t,” one black assistant NBA general manager told The Undefeated. “All we want is a chance. As a black man, all we want is a fair opportunity to show we are just as qualified.”

Maybe the Bulls conducted some very necessary self-reflection. Within a few weeks of that piece, the Bulls hired Marc Eversley, the Sixers former Vice President of Player Personnel, to their General Manager position. Per Marc J. Spears:

“Marc Eversley, the first black man to become general manager of the Chicago Bulls, will certainly be noticed in the Windy City, standing 6 feet, 8 inches tall. But in his quest to help rebuild the Bulls, he also hopes to be visible among Chicago’s black youth and use his story to inspire others.”

Now it makes some sense that Eversley, who was part of the executive team that hired Udoka in Philadelphia, would call on an excellent coaching candidate. Per Cowley:

“Sources have told the Sun-Times that 76ers assistant Ime Udoka is the front-runner to become the Bulls’ new coach, with Raptors assistant — and former Bulls assistant — Adrian Griffin also in the picture.

Karnisovas and Eversley are familiar with both men, and each is more than qualified for the position. It’s a win-win, but it’s also a process.”

But the Bulls gain could be the Sixers loss. Especially if it happened before the season was complete. It represents a “tricky wrinkle” for the Sixers, per Jason Blevins of The Painted Lines:

In the past, Coach Brett Brown has lost his top help before. Mike D’Antoni went on to take over for the Rockets. Monty Williams accepted a Head Coaching Role with the Phoenix Suns, although he stayed on to finish the playoffs in Philadelphia. Billy Lange, on the other hand, did not finish the year. Things are especially murky at this time. As Blevins notes, Udoka is heavily involved in the team’s play-calling, so if he takes the position, could the Sixers lose one of their top voices right when they need him the most? Normally, a new (non-playoff) team would have about a 5 month break for a new coach to ramp up. But with the 2021 season set to tip off just a couple of months after this one finishes, it makes everything weird for everyone.

The question isn’t if Udoka will get the chance to be a head coach it’s when and where. Some fans have even wondered if he might replace Brett Brown, should the team decide to move forward with a new coach this off-season. With so much up in the air there is not much left to do but wait for more rumors and reports. But it might be in Coach Brown’s best interest to prepare for life without his top assistant on the sidelines for some of these playoffs just in case.