Hidden reasons why Presti chose to retain Billy Donovan as Thunder HC

OKC Thunder Head Coach Billy Donovan, General Manager Sam Presti (Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images)
OKC Thunder Head Coach Billy Donovan, General Manager Sam Presti (Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images) /

In his end of season press conference, Sam Presti confirmed Billy Donovan will remain the head coach of the OKC Thunder.

After a season of underachieving and a quick exit from the playoffs, many felt Billy Donovan was (or should be) on the hot seat. For months, Thunderous Intentions scribes opined on why Donovan was part of the team’s major problem.

Countless times this season fans witnessed games where the TV analysts calling the game would speak to the ‘simplistic’ offensive style of the Thunder. This scribe was irate over the misuse of the bench. A scan around the league points to several squads who are still playing whose head coaches were able to get the best from their reserves. Why? Because the head coach gave these role players consistent minutes and roles to play.

It can’t be understated how important this factor is. Listen to dissatisfied players and a frequent statement is how they weren’t given consistent minutes. If you’re wondering why that’s important, it’s a fair question. Basketball is a sport that requires flow and timing.

Many players are also creatures of habit. For reserves, these two items are even more important. Not every player can excel like Lou Williams, Jamal Crawford, or Eric Gordon. Coming off the bench requires a mindset. But, knowing when you’ll come in and what’s expected is half the battle.

Dealing with star egos:

In fairness to Billy Donovan, he had to navigate the fragile egos of his star players. Something we’ve learned since Carmelo Anthony‘s exit interview was likely more difficult than any of us imagined.

Still, with so much emphasis on Russell Westbrook not having a ‘true offense’ or system to work with, it was assumed Donovan would at the very least be needing to answer for the teams’ lackluster season. That, however, will not be the case.

Sam Presti held his end of season press conference and emphatically stated Billy Donovan will remain the head coach.

So what does this mean aside from the fact Donovan will return?

First of all, it means Presti and Donovan have a good working relationship. Moreover, we can presume it also means the core of Russell Westbrook, Steven Adams, and Andre Roberson also get along with Donovan. Perhaps, most importantly it may mean Paul George has a strong relationship with Donovan. This latter point could be why Presti chose to confirm Donovan will return.

Given the season, it would have been normal for Presti to say we’ll be reviewing all the contracts including management. The fact Presti didn’t take this route tends to point to there being another reason why. Let’s presume the hopes Paul George will return is the greatest caveat to his retention.

The Melo dilemma:

The other key point to take from Presti’s comments about Donovan was he excluded Carmelo Anthony when discussing the core citing Westbrook, George, and Adams only.

And, perhaps that is another reason for Presti making it clear Billy Donovan is the head coach of OKC for the immediate future. After Anthony stated he refused to come off the bench and would not be a catch and shoot player next season it caused a stir.

It was clear by watching Melo on the sidelines in the final two games of the season he was unhappy not being in the game. Yet, there is an argument he shouldn’t have been starting at all or given as many minutes as he was.  To say the relationship between Donovan and Anthony is fractured would be overstating. Consequently, the fact Melo had no problem letting loose a day after the Thunder were ousted was clearly a way for the aging star to send a message to the coach and OKC brain trust.

Navigating the offseason is a priority for Donovan:

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Moving forward, Thunder fans need to hope Donovan takes a page out of the player’s offseason handbooks. Specifically, Billy D must get his team working on a new offense immediately. This, so his players can work on the system in the summer.

Additionally, Donovan needs to make it clear to Carmelo Anthony you will play when and where I say you’ll play. Granted with almost $28M due to the star it’s a risky move to take. Anthony is unlikely to opt-out and he retains the right to refuse trades.

Donovan might want to take a page out of the Knicks handbook in terms of how they dealt with Joakim Noah. It’s not ideal, but if Anthony believes he could be embarrassed he might change his tone.

By embarrassed, I mean Donovan could force Melo to the bench or the team could send him home to become a spectator. A player of Anthony’s ilk has an ego and it’s doubtful he’ll be happy being nailed to the bench nor not being allowed to play.

In Closing:

Regardless, there are things that need to be addressed this offseason and while OKC’s priority will be re-signing George the Anthony situation is equally important.

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Billy Donovan did not register high in performance this season and offered ample reasons to be criticized. This season the coach looked to be bending to his stars rather than addressing team needs.

Ultimately, these star relationship may be the lucky break that bent Presti in favor of his retention. It’s unlikely Melo will opt out, but let’s hope Donovan sits down with him to say your role will be off the bench next season. That and that alone may be the only thing that makes this early statement of support understandable.