Billy Donovan Would Not Be the Answer in Oklahoma City

University of Florida basketball coach has started formal negotiations with Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti to take over coaching duties for the recently fired Scott Brooks.Billy%20Donovan

Donovan appears to be the front-runner to coach the Thunder due to his prior relationship with Presti who has hired two members of Donovan’s Florida staff over the past year. Mark Daigneault left Florida to coach the Thunder’s D-League team, and Oliver Winterbone joined OKC as a data analyst.

Maybe last year’s poor season by the Gators has Donovan thinking this is finally the time to jump to the NBA. Florida finished the season 16–17, 8–10 in SEC play to finish in a tie for eighth place. They lost to Kentucky in the quarterfinals and did not participate in a postseason tournament for the first time in 17 years when Donovan was in his third season in Gainesville.

Just last season, Donovan resisted overtures from the Cleveland Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves to remain at Florida where his family is a big part of the university and program. In year’s past, he also resisted the opportunity to coach Kobe Bryant and the famed Los Angeles Lakers’ franchise.

Why would Donovan want to leave the comfort of a college coaching position where he makes a little over 4 million per year and has a contract that runs through 2020 for the daily grind of an NBA season. If Donovan were to leave for the NBA, he would have to pay a $500,000 buyout which may seem small to sum, but is still a great deal of money to be paying for the opportunity to coach in the NBA where few college coaches have successfully made the transition from college to pro.

I have never been a fan of college coaches taking on the challenges of coaching in the NBA. In college, these coaches recruit the player and personality they would like on their team. NBA players are full of egos and can many times be uncoachable.

Suspending college players is easy to defend because you are still trying to teach life lessons and prepare them for life beyond college. Do you really think Dallas Mavericks’ point guard Rajon Rondo learned a lesson after the team suspended him for one game after his public altercation with coach Rick Carlisle? Hell no. After he was injured and missed the rest of the playoff series with the Houston Rockets, many have speculated Rondo has played his last game in a Mavericks’ uniform unless the team fires Carlisle. NBA players often use a “him or me” approach with management and players often win and the coach is let go.

With the exception of Rick Pitino leaving Providence to take over a talented New York Knicks’ franchise in the late 80’s for two years where they made the playoffs both seasons, college coaches have had little success at the professional rank. The recently deceased Jerry Tarkanian left UNLV in 1992 for the San Antonio Spurs where he was fired after going 9-11 in only 20 games. Over the past 20 years, Lon Kruger left Illinois for the Atlanta Hawks, Tim Floyd left Iowa St. for the Chicago Bulls, Mike Montgomery left Stanford for the Golden St. Warriors, P.J. Carlesimo left Seton Hall after many years to take over a talented Portland Trail Blazers’ team, and Leonard Hamilton left the University of Miami to take over the Washington Wizards for one season. Out of these first-time NBA coaches, only Calipari and Carlesimo made the playoffs going 0-3 and 3-9 respectively. Did I mention Calipari lasted only three seasons and Carlesimo is best-known for being choked at practice by star shooting guard Latrell Sprewell who was suspended 68 games by the NBA?

The latest college coach to make the jump to the NBA was Brad Stevens in 2013 who parlayed two Final Four appearances at mid-major Butler University into NBA riches where he received a six-year contract for 22 million from the Boston Celtics. Two years into his NBA coaching career, Stevens has gone 65-99 and were swept in the first round of this year’s playoffs by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

About the only college coach I would like to eventually see try coaching in the NBA is Mike Krzyzewski. Coach K is not only the winningest coach in men’s college basketball history with over 1000 victories, but he has also been the United States’ men’s national team basketball coach since 2005. He has led the U.S. to two gold medals and two FIBA championships. Coach K is a rare coach who has the innate ability to reach a player whether he is in college or a professional. Maybe when he eventually leaves Duke, Coach K will give the NBA a try.

This brings us back to Donovan. He should not leave Florida. Donovan won back to back National Championships, appeared in four Final Fours, seven Elite Eights, and even won the National College Coach of the Year. College players will appreciate him more than any NBA player ever will.

While he would inherit a strong team led by forward Kevin Durant and point guard Russell Westbrook, the pressure is on for the Thunder to win a championship. In order to do that, they will need a coach will NBA experience. If the Bulls are crazy enough to let Tom Thibideau go, the Thunder should snap him up in a heartbeat because Coach T. stresses defense which is an area lacking in OKC. If not Thibideau, then why not give a long-time NBA assistant a shot. Patrick Ewing is a Hall of Fame player who has been a long-time assistant. No doubt Ewing deserves a shot. Before going to the college ranks, I would go after current head coaches like Paul Westphal in Brooklyn, Kurt Rambis in New York, Ed Pinckney in Chicago, Tyronn Lue in Cleveland, or Nate McMillan in Indiana who has 12 years of coaching experience between Seattle (now OKC) and Portland.

I hope Presti is listening although it appears Donovan will more than likely roam the sideline for the Thunder next season.

And that’s as I see it!

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