Learning to Appreciate the Billy Donovan Hire


I decided to do a late reaction to the coaching change because if I would’ve done one right away, my judgement would have been clouded by emotion from the past. Even though I wasn’t the biggest Scott Brooks supporter it was difficult to try and swallow what changes had come to the head coach position for the Thunder. 

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Before the firing, I was in the mind set that the Thunder would bring back Brooks for one more year to try and win a championship. The team faced an injury-plagued season and had dealt with injuries during the two previous postseasons. The last time a Brooks-led team was fully healthy for a playoff run was in 2012, when OKC made it to the NBA Finals still had James Harden on the roster.

After the firing, I was unsettled because I didn’t believe that another coach could do what Brooks had done for this team. But that’s the exact thought that changed my mind. Another coach could not do what Brooks has done.

Another coach would bring something new to Oklahoma City.

Another coach could possibly do so much better than Brooks. I understand that another coach could do worse but this is a team that has been “destined” for a championship for years and still have nothing to show for it except one finals appearance and four seasons of 50-plus wins. Not that the team hasn’t been successful under Brooks but without a championship it is seen as a failure when you have two top-5 NBA players on your team.

I realized that after five seasons with the same coach, the team needed change. They had already started by making multiple moves during the season through trades to make the team better. A coaching change wasn’t necessary but it just might be exactly what the team needs to be able to win a title. It is a lot to ask from any coach but especially a rookie head coach. Billy Donovan knew what the job was when he accepted the offer and he knew exactly what was expected of him. 

With that being said, at first I did not believe the Thunder would hire Donovan if they were to fire Brooks. I thought that Kevin Ollie would be the front-runner for the position because of his history with the team as well as his relationship with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Durant was quoted as saying that “Ollie was the one who brought the winning mentality to OKC.” He seemed like the perfect man for the job if the Thunder decided to go rookie head coach in the NBA and he very may well have been until he (at least publicly) shot down the rumors.

Many names were rumored to be in the mix including Tom Thibodeau of the Chicago Bulls, Fred Holberg of the Iowa State Cyclones, Alvin Gentry who, at the moment, is an assistant with the Golden State Warriors, as well as Donovan. I even heard the notion that Jerry Sloan, who achieved success with the Utah Jazz, could be lured out of retirement. Names were popping up all over the place as they should be for a job this prestigous. With a chance to coach a championship contender with two perennial all-stars and potential hall-of-famers in Durant and Westbrook. That could also scare some candidates away because who wants to take on that responsibility of having to win a championship right away could be a challenge that not many could handle. 

The Thunder wasted no time when it came to hiring Donovan. It actually took them only about a week to hire Donovan. They chose not to wait until the offseason. This took them completely out of the running for coaches like Thibodeau, Gentry, or other current NBA coaches. Instead, the quick move erased months of potential speculation. The team made a quick yet thought out decision (as if GM Sam Presti would ever make any other kind) and it is for the better. This gives Donovan more time with the team and the community to build his image in OKC as well as a relationship with his new players.

Just because he is a rookie NBA head coach does not mean that Donovan won’t be effective at this level. He has had tremendous success in the college ranks, especially during his 19-year tenure at Florida. He had a combined record of 467-186, led his teams to the Final Four on four occasions and two National Championships.

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It will be difficult to match what Brooks meant to the Oklahoma City community as well as the relationship that he had with the players but Donovan seems to have gotten off on the right foot by getting approval from Durant when he was hired. Donovan also participated in a community event with children at a local community center on his first day in Oklahoma City.

I’ll admit that as a fan of the Thunder and as a fan of basketball I was surprised by the coaching decisions made by the Thunder but now that I have had a chance to soak it all in, I am excited with the change. There is a bright future in OKC and Donovan will be the man to help Durant, Westbrook and company.

If a championship is ever in the cards for the Thunder, Donovan will be the man to lead them to one. Presti has made some great judgments over his years in OKC and this could potentially be another. Only time will tell what will come of Donovan but, as for this fan, I am thrilled for what the future holds.