Why OKC Thunder rebuild fits Billy Donovan

Head Coach Billy Donovan of the Oklahoma City Thunder (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)
Head Coach Billy Donovan of the Oklahoma City Thunder (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images) /

As the OKC Thunder enter a rebuild, does Billy Donovan have a door open for more job security?

Many OKC Thunder fans want Billy Donovan fired…Like, yesterday. Many fans cannot believe that Donovan will roam the sidelines for another season in Oklahoma City, even after the team finished off a huge fire sale that sent the Thunder likely out of playoff contention to fighting for lottery positioning.

I get it that fans are disappointed in the lack of playoff success under Billy Donovan, heck I wrote a hire Bill Self article, but it is time to give Donovan a clean slate because he has been dealt his best hand yet.

Billy Donovan has honestly gotten an unfair shake in the NBA. After a wildly successful college coaching career that featured back-to-back NCAA Championships at the University of Florida, Donovan was always a coveted NBA coaching candidate. He earned interest from the Orlando Magic, who wanted to hire the local college coaching standout and actually hired him in 2007.

Donovan backed out of the deal in Orlando to continue in the college ranks.

After canning Scott Brooks, the Thunder hired Billy Donovan for the 2015-16 season. The Thunder had Kevin Durant, and Russell Westbrook and were prime contenders for a title. Bringing in a new voice with championship pedigree should work, right?

Well, after a year, KD skipped town despite being a game away from the NBA Finals and the fact that it was rumored Al Horford would join the OKC Thunder that summer to play with the dynamic duo and his beloved college coach.

From there, Russell Westbrook dragged a few cats to the NBA playoffs in a historic season that saw him win MVP.

The organization then brought in Paul George and Carmelo Anthony to pair with Westbrook and we all know how this story goes.

Billy Donovan has never been able to truly coach while with the Thunder. No one has been able to reel in Russell Westbrook, so I can not blame a first time NBA coach for that. Is it his fault his two stars collapsed down the stretch and blew a 3-1 lead? Maybe, but he was a first-year head coach going up against a historic team.

Throw out the MVP year.

This past season, Donovan and the Thunder were in line to be the second seed, pacing for a top-three seed all year for the most part until Paul George got hurt in Denver and the team spiraled. That is bad luck, not bad coaching.

The only two negatives you can find with Donovan is he did not manage Carmelo Anthony well, and he played Raymond Felton too many minutes.

Trotting out Felton time and time again in big moments was inexcusable. Not benching Carmelo Anthony in big moments during the playoffs outside of game five was infuriating. When Donovan finally handled the superstar future Hall of Fame and relegated him to the bench down 25, the Thunder made their biggest comeback in franchise history. The next game George went 2-for-16 and the Thunder narrowly lost. Is that his fault?

For this first time in his OKC Thunder career, Donovan can finally do some coaching. It is hard to coach stars and to get them to listen to you especially when you have no success at the NBA level. This is Donovan’s chance to show he belongs.

Donovan is a great teacher and a great developer of talent. Look at how much Jerami Grant‘s game has evolved since joining the Thunder.

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Granted Donovan didn’t excel in time management particularly for youngsters such as Deonte Burton or Abdel Nader. Even if they were on a hot streak or helping cut deficits they came out of the game typically because it was time to re-insert George or Westbrook.

The difference this season will be the coach won’t need to navigate ensuring his stars get minutes and touches. Instead, he’ll have carte blanche in terms of minute distribution. Given the new dynamics that should translate into a more competitive environment where players push each other for those minutes knowing success will be rewarded.

This year, go into it with a clean slate, because we will finally get to see what Donovan is all about. He can mold young players like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Terrance Ferguson, Hamidou Diallo, Darius Bazley, and Deonte Burton all year long.

This season is not at all about wins or losses, it is about seeing players develop throughout the year and them playing in a system they can eventually thrive in.

While the roster lacks the top end talent he has been accustomed to during his Thunder tenure, this is his best roster he has ever had to extend his job security. This roster is coachable with room to grow and no expectations of winning.

The expectations rest squarely on the shoulders of player progression, something Donovan in his entire coaching career has been pretty good at.

Next. Thank you, Russell Westbrook. dark

While you might not like Billy Donovan, he is going to be the coach this year. Allow him a clean slate and let’s see what he does with coachable personalities and players.