Kevin Durant wasn’t involved in the process — he did not pick his own coach.
But that coach is very much at the center of whether Kevin Durant will be a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder beyond next season.
The Thunder announced the hiring of Billy Donovan Thursday, he will be formally introduced on Friday. Donovan has won two national titles and produced a lot of NBA players in his 19 years at Florida. He also runs the kind of ball-screen, motion heavy, space-the-floor offense that GM Sam Presti wanted to see in OKC.
But in the end it’s all about keeping Durant — and Durant is good with the hire. Here is what he told Royce Young of ESPN.
“I wouldn’t say it matters,” Durant said of Donovan’s perceived lack of experience. “If you know how to coach a team, that’s all that matters. He’s been at one of the highest levels of basketball and won a title. That’s tough to do. So you can’t just downplay what he’s done in the college ranks and just automatically say he’s not going to be great in the pros. He produced a lot of pros, and they all love him….
“I reached out to Chandler Parsons and Mike Miller, and they just told me great things,” Durant said. “Mike told me that he’s real detailed and prepared. Every day is just another day for him to get better. And he’s always looking to learn. I was excited when I heard that because that’s the type of player I am, and I’m looking forward to learning from somebody else. It should be a good relationship. Like I said, I want to get a feel for him myself and for him to get a feel for me and just work from there….
“But I know he’s going to do a good job because from what I’ve heard he works extremely hard, his attention to detail is one of the best and everybody’s been telling me he’s an NBA coach coaching in college. So I’m excited. I’m very excited to learn from him and get better from him and try my best to do whatever he tells me to do. I can’t wait to get started.”
Durant was close to Scott Brooks, the coach the Thunder let go looking for an upgrade. Brooks put together good teams but ones that never got over the hump — the past few years due to injuries, including a Jones fracture to the foot of Durant that had him out most of the season. Durant should be back and healthy next season.
It was smart of Durant to stay out of the coaching search. More than just that not being his job, he didn’t want any “we brought this coach in because you wanted him” stuff coming up if — really, when — he explores free agency next summer.
Durant is saying all the right things, and more than that you can be sure he will do all the right things. He will put in the work, he will buy into the system — he wants to win more than anything else. Same with Russell Westbrook. If Donovan can be the guy to take them over the top, and if those two stars can sense it, then this relationship will start smoothly.
The blueprint for Donovan to succeed has been laid out. All that’s left is a ton of work.