Chicago Bulls are making changes to Billy Donovan’s coaching staff. What do they tell us about the team’s priorities?

The Chicago Bulls already are making major changes — just not to their roster.

While the front office weighs critical free-agency decisions regarding DeMar DeRozan and Patrick Williams, the early weeks of the offseason have been focused on realigning Billy Donovan’s coaching staff.

The Bulls did not re-up the contract of assistant coach Chris Fleming, the only holdover from Jim Boylen’s staff, while Josh Longstaff left to join the staff of new Charlotte Hornets coach Charles Lee. The two vacancies will be filled by Wes Unseld Jr. and Dan Craig, as first reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Respected assistant Maurice Cheeks also chose to step back from his lead assistant duties, making room on the front row for John Bryant.

For a fed-up fan, this might seem like minutiae. It’s difficult to envision how a few tweaks to the coaching staff could deliver the wholesale changes that fans have been clamoring for ever since the Bulls crashed out of the play-in tournament with a loss in Miami for the second consecutive year. And it’s true that the Bulls likely would remain mired in the same issues if they again decline to make major changes during trade windows.

So what can be learned from these coaching changes about how the Bulls are approaching next season?

The two departures make sense for different reasons. Despite Fleming’s proximity to key players — particularly Coby White, to whom Fleming was assigned as a personal coach since White’s rookie season — he was the last remaining vestige of a coaching era the Bulls are trying to forget.

Longstaff, meanwhile, was set to move to the front bench with Bryant, and his hiring in Charlotte reflects his rising potential in the league.

The Bulls clearly were eager to add an assistant coach with prior head coaching experience, often one of the best ways to create a more versatile staff to navigate a long season. Unseld is fresh off 2½ seasons as head coach of the Washington Wizards and also brings synergy with the front office, as he worked with Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations Artūras Karnišovas for six seasons in Denver while serving as an assistant to Nuggets coach Michael Malone.

There are two clear priorities for the Bulls coaching staff: creativity and player development.

Despite a disappointing finish, the latter already took a jump last season with the addition of shooting coach Peter Patton, who helped improve the efficiency of players such as Ayo Dosunmu and Alex Caruso. With breakout performances from White and Dosunmu, the Bulls are inspiring more confidence in their ability to build young players into top contributors on both sides of the ball.

Improving creativity is a tougher piece to the puzzle. The Bulls finished in the bottom half of the league in offensive rating for a second straight season. Stagnancy has become the status quo on that end of the court — an issue exacerbated by injuries but also resulting from how the coaching staff builds and tweaks schemes over the course of the season.

Related Articles

Outside of these necessary areas of improvement, perhaps the most important takeaway from the realignment of the coaching staff is the front office’s continued commitment to Donovan.

Throughout his end-of-season interview, Karnišovas made it clear that any form of change is on the table this summer — except for one: Donovan isn’t going anywhere.

Despite Donovan’s 156-162 record over four seasons in Chicago, the front office remains impressed with his work ethic and player development acumen. Karnišovas described Donovan as a “great leader and a great coach” whom he trusts to create a winning culture.

“I like what Billy has done here the last four years,” Karnišovas said. “Billy is someone you build a program with. He’s a very good coach and even a better human being.

“We established a winning expectation, we defined a profile for the Bulls player and we put an emphasis on player development. It is also on me to facilitate Billy with the resources he needs to build a team that can be successful consistently.”

The staff adjustments are a clear reflection of Karnišovas’ intention to put Donovan in a position to succeed. But the most crucial step comes next: assembling a balanced roster that’s better equipped than the recent iterations that failed to make the playoffs.