Heading into the NBA for the first time in his coaching career might not be the pleasant, patient experience Billy Donovan is used to from coaching Florida in college basketball. The Oklahoma City Thunder want to win now, while also focusing on making sure Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook don’t start thinking about playing for someone else.
The Thunder missed the playoff this season which got Scott Brooks fired, although Kevin Durant missed almost the entire season, Serge Ibaka joined him on the sidelines late in the season and Russell Westbrook was left there on his own, which he actually prefers, but that didn’t help the Thunder make the postseason. For a team that was supposed to be with a title or two by now, that was too much to take.
Donovan makes the jump from the comforts of job security into the shark infested waters of the NBA. Obviously, he has a multi-year contract, but the Thunder aren’t going to be too gracious in the opportunity and affording him time and room to fail. This is Durant’s last season on his deal. Russell Westbrook (and also Serge Ibaka) becomes a free agent in 2017. The Thunder need to show them there’s something worth staying for.
While the Thunder players had a strong connection with Brooks, there isn’t exactly a massive depression spreading through the players like the plague. They probably knew quite well that Brooks might be connecting with them, but when it comes to teaching them basketball, he’s not the most qualified coach out there, and the offensive stagnation of the team is mostly his blame.
Donovan will obviously need to change. This isn’t a young team, despite the stigma. Durant and Westbrook are veterans; players who have been to the NBA final, and have been in the league for quite some time. Brad Stevens got time to develop something in Boston. Donovan has a mostly ready team that needs someone new to steer them towards the ultimate success.
And while the Thunder love talking about building and developing something, they didn’t bring Donovan in to rebuild or retool. He’s there to make the stars happy and bring some sort of new offensive tweaks so the Thunder can finally get over the hump and start winning championships. With losing Kevin Durant on the line, it’s hard to feel relaxed about the whole situation and season.
The Thunder won’t be making too many changes. They can’t. They’re already committed to over $78 million in salary next season, if they pick up the Dion Waiters team option ($5.1 million). Enes Kanter is a tough decision to make (restricted free agent), and there won’t be too many changes via free agency to be made. And to think the Thunder traded James Harden because they cared about not going too much over the luxury tax.