Billy Donovan is headed to coach Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Or is he?
Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday. That’s exciting news for the Thunder, as Donovan is undoubtedly one of the best college coaches in the nation.
But we’ve heard this story before.
Donovan has signed a contract to coach in the NBA before, infamously becoming the head coach of the Orlando Magic for a few days in June of 2007. He struggled with the decision and reportedly had a change of heart just one day after agreeing to the deal. The Magic released him from the contract later that week, with the reported stipulation that Donovan could not coach in the NBA for the next five years.
Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti wouldn’t have fired Scott Brooks and pursued Donovan so hard if he wasn’t absolutely sure that Donovan wouldn’t change his mind again. Still, there must be some fear in the back of Oklahoma City’s mind that Donovan might not honor his commitment.
However, there are multiple reasons to believe that Donovan is leaving Florida for real this time.
First off, the situations of the NBA teams are completely different. Donovan was coming off of back-to-back championships at Florida and had known nothing but success for the better part of a decade. The Magic were not in quite the same position in 2007. Orlando was coming off of four straight losing seasons and hadn’t finished better than fifth in the Eastern Conference since 1998-99.
Why would Donovan, fresh off two championships, go to what looked like a rebuilding situation? Of course, that’s not what actually happened, as the Magic went 52-30 in their first year under Stan Van Gundy and reached the NBA Finals the next season, but Donovan couldn’t have seen that coming.
Oklahoma City has two of the top players in the NBA with a great supporting cast and plenty of depth. Despite the disappointing 2014-15 season, nobody is doubting that Oklahoma City is one of the few legitimate title contenders next year.
The situation at Florida is quite different as well. Losing stars like Joakim Noah and Al Horford meant that the Gators were going to be on a downswing after 2007, but that felt more like a reload than a rebuilding period. The Gators would make the NIT the next two years, return to the NCAA Tournament in 2009-10, and then rattle four straight Elite Eight seasons including one Final Four.
Coming off of a 16-17 season (its worst since 1997-98) with no postseason and little to work with on the roster, Florida looks like could be in for an extended rebuilding process. If Donovan was ever going to leave, now was the time it was going to happen.
There’s always going to be some doubt after 2007, but expect Donovan to be on the sidelines in Oklahoma City next fall.