Thunder coach Billy Donovan finished third in this year’s Coach of the Year voting. He earned those votes, helping turn a team most thought was lottery bound into a fifth seed and dangerous playoff team (they went seven games with the Rockets in the first round before falling).
Now Billy Donovan is out as the Oklahoma City coach.
“I have great respect for Billy and will always appreciate our work together,” said Thunder General Manager Sam Presti in a statement. “He is a terrific basketball coach and we are proud of what he has accomplished with the Thunder. We had planned to sit down at the end of the season and discuss the best way to move forward for both of us. After those discussions, it became apparent that we couldn’t provide him the information on the future direction of the team over the next several seasons to give him the level of clarity that he understandably desires at this stage of his career. Therefore, we close this chapter and reflect fondly on all that he has given to the team, organization and community.
“Billy will always have a place in the Thunder family.”
Donovan had a 243-157 record (.608) record as the Thunder coach.
“Coaching the Oklahoma City Thunder the past five seasons has been a great honor, and I thank Mr. Bennett, Sam and the entire organization for the opportunity,” Donovan said. “I have a great respect and admiration for the players I coached in Oklahoma, and I also want to thank the coaches I worked with, who gave unbelievable time and expertise to our common goal. Lastly, I want to thank the Oklahoma City community for being so welcoming to my family during our time here.”
Donovan will have options on the market, where multiple teams looking to win now could have openings. The Bulls will be on that list, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (who also broke the story).
As Presti said, Donovan had no contract for next season and the sides could not reach a deal on an extension.
Read the tea leaves on all this and it means the rebuild is about to start in OKC — Donovan is a fantastic coach who came out of the college ranks (he won national titles at Florida), but he did not want to stick around and be the player development guy racking up losses for an extended period (at least not at the price the Thunder were offering).
It means expect veterans Chris Paul (two years, $85 million total remaining), Steven Adams, and Dennis Schroder to be on the trade block. As Marc Stein of the New York Times noted, there’s been a lot of buzz (as their playoff exit became clear) that Milwaukee may be willing to take on Chris Paul’s contract. If so (and that deal would be complex and hard to pull off), the Thunder can find homes for Adams and Schroder and start their rebuild around Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
All of which would have the Thunder looking at player development coaches such as Kenny Atkinson (recently of Brooklyn).
For now, it’s another unexpected coaching shakeup in the NBA