OKC Thunder: Billy Donovan won't return as coach next season
Sam Presti could sense that Billy Donovan was leaning toward not returning as coach, so the Thunder general manager brought a cooler to the office. Presti packed a couple of beers for himself and two Diet Cokes for Donovan.
They kicked back and reminisced about Donovan's five years as coach, both the high and low points.
"I thought I'd end up drinking the two beers," Presti said. "He actually had one. When you work closely with somebody for five years and you go through a lot of the things that we went through together … I'm just really grateful I got a chance to work with him."
That partnership ended Tuesday night when the Thunder announced that it and Donovan had mutually agreed to part ways.
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Donovan's contract expired when the Thunder was eliminated from the playoffs, but Presti made it clear that the organization wanted Donovan to return as coach.
Presti held a video press conference Tuesday night, less than an hour after the team announced that Donovan wasn't coming back. Presti's statement in that initial release revealed why talks between the Thunder and Donovan fell through.
"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," Presti said in the statement.
Presti couldn't sell Donovan, 55, on the Thunder's future, because the franchise's future is unpredictable.
The financial fallout brought by the pandemic is still being assessed. No one knows where the salary cap and luxury tax will be set next season.
Those numbers are likely to determine if the Thunder re-signs power forward Danilo Gallinari, who’s set to become an unrestricted free agent. If Gallinari returns, the Thunder could run things back with virtually the same roster that exceeded expectations this season.
Regardless of what happens with Gallinari, the Thunder will be listening to trade offers for Chris Paul, who has two years left on his contract, and Dennis Schroder and Steven Adams, who will be playing next season on the final year of their contracts.
Donovan’s departure doesn’t necessarily signal that the teardown is coming this offseason. Presti mentioned the possibility of bringing this same team back for another year, which would delay the rebuild until next offseason.
But there are no guarantees, and for Donovan, no promises.
“Even if I could give him an idea of the way things would look this current year, at the end of the day, what does it look like over the next two to three years?” Presti said. “That’s the kind of thing that I don’t think that we’re in a position to be able to forecast.”
“And so in knowing where he is and the caliber of coach that he is, I wouldn’t want to mislead him and tell him it was going to be a certain way and then have it not be that way.”
Donovan coached exactly 400 regular-season games with the Thunder. He went 243-157 (60.8%) and never had a losing season. Donovan’s winning percentage ranks fourth among active coaches behind Nick Nurse, Steve Kerr and Gregg Popovich.
Donovan coached the Thunder to the Western Conference Finals in his first season. The Thunder was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs each of the last four seasons. Donovan finished with an 18-23 playoff record.
Donovan thanked the organization in his outgoing statement, specifically Presti, chairman Clay Bennett, his players and his coaches.
"Lastly, I want to thank the Oklahoma City community for being so welcoming to my family during our time here,” Donovan said. “This place will always be special to us. I will always hold this organization in the highest regard and wish the Thunder and their fans the success they deserve."