First reported by Adrian Wojnarowski (ESPN) and then confirmed via team press release, Billy Donovan will not return next season as coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Donovan was in the final year of a five-year contract.
Although discussions between OKC and Donovan were described as “collaborative,” they were also “realistic,” as the team likely looks to an earnest rebuild effort after the surprising success of this season, for which Donovan was named Co-Coach of the Year by the National Basketball Coaches Association. Donovan also finished third for the official NBA Coach of the Year Award.
The Thunder led by Donovan won 61% of their games, and went to the playoffs in each season, including the Western Conference Finals in Donovan’s first year at the helm.
In his statement regarding the mutual parting of ways, Donovan was effusive about his time in Oklahoma City. “Coaching the Oklahoma City Thunder the past five seasons has been a great honor… I want to thank the Oklahoma City community for being so welcoming to my family during our time here. This place will always be special to us.”
Rapid Reaction: While it’s somewhat of a shock, when considering that Oklahoma City is very likely entering a true rebuild (or replenishment) next season, it’s understandable that the team and Donovan might both be looking for fresh starts. Donovan had a ton of success in OKC, even as he had to navigate the departures of both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. As a seasoned and successful coach, Donovan apparently did not wish to oversee a non-contender.
Speculation should now turn to what will happen with Chris Paul. Paul’s thank you to OKC after the season was written more akin to a farewell, so it seems probable that Sam Presti and the organization will be sitting down to discuss Paul’s (and Danilo Gallinari’s) future with the team soon.
As to the next coach, I’m going to guess some current assistants will be considered, namely Maurice Cheeks, Mark Daigneault, and Brian Keefe. Other names to keep an eye on are Tyronn Lue, Dave Joerger, and recently fired Brett Brown, who oversaw the rebuild of the 76ers. I also think OKC should also consider Becky Hammon, widely assumed to become the first female head coach in the NBA.