Though he won a piece of NBA coach of the year honors, as awarded by his peers as recently as a month ago, Billy Donovan will nonetheless not be returning to coach the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The team made the announcement late Tuesday evening, explaining the shakeup in a statement under the headline, “Oklahoma City Thunder and Billy Donovan agree to mutually part ways.”
Thunder general manager Sam Presti, within the statement, offered the franchise’s version of Donovan’s departure.
“We had planned to sit down at the end of the season and discuss the best way to move forward for both of us,” he said. “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.”
An apparent measure of the mutual nature of the decision, the team’s statement also came with words from Donovan, though the coach did not mention his reasons for his moving on.
“I have great respect and admiration for the players I coached in Oklahoma City and I also want to thank the coaches I worked with, who gave unbelievable time and expertise … Lastly I want to thank the Oklahoma City community for being so welcoming to my family during our time here,” he said. “This place will always be special to us.”
Presti, on a media call that began around 9:15 p.m. Tuesday, made it clear the Thunder’s preferred vision did not include having to replace Donovan.
“We’re disappointed we weren’t ultimately able to sort it out,” Presti said.
In one moment during the call, Presti finished a point about how well liked Donovan was within the organization by saying his tenure “just wasn’t meant to be longer, unfortunately.”
While easy to Presti’s statement-issued quote as an indicator he expects to blow up the Thunder roster, attempting to trade away a list of veterans that could include Chris Paul, Steven Adams and Dennis Schroder, along with no attempt to re-sign Danilo Gallinari, who is a free agent this offseason, Presti actually went a different direction.
He said the biggest issues facing the Thunder are issues facing all NBA franchises.
“The reality is that we’re working in a situation where we don’t now when our [next] season will start … We don’t understand yet economically the impact of this [COVID] situation on any team let alone ours in terms of revenue,” Presti said. “We also don’t have any idea of what the salary cap and luxury tax is going to be and I think all of you guys that cover the NBA realize that … those are the rules of the game.”
If Presti made any real news about the future make up of the team it was when he said “I think we’re at a point in time where we may bring this team back for [next] season.
“I don’t know what that would mean beyond [next] season, the seasons after that, we’re just at that point in time as a franchise and organization.”
Everything is up in the air, including, said Presti, the timetable for hiring Donovan’s successor, which could be the first of many offseason decisions or one of the last.
This season, under Donovan’s tutoring, Oklahoma City surpassed all expectation, going 44-28 during the regular season, tying for fourth in the Western Conference.
The team it tied with, the Houston Rockets, outlasted the Thunder in a seven-game first-round playoff series that concluded last week.
Donovan spent five seasons with the Thunder, reaching the playoffs in each.
His first, 2015-16, Oklahoma City reached the Western Conference finals. Each of the next four, the Thunder were bounced in the first round.
In 21 collegiate seasons at Marshall and Florida, Donovan claimed two national championships and a 467-186.
Should he resume his NBA coaching career next season or thereafter, he will take a 400-243 mark into his next gig.