In somewhat of a shock last night, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted that the OKC Thunder and head coach Billy Donovan have decided to part ways. Donovan was at the end of his contract and it seemed as if he and the team had different views on how to approach the following seasons. Looks like OKC will now go into a rebuild after overachieving this season.
So how do the 76ers fit into this?
Well, the 76ers need a new head coach, and Billy Donovan is no a free agent head coach. So, it makes sense that Donovan would be linked to the 76ers vacancy. But is Donovan the right choice?
One thing Donovan has that some other candidates don’t, experience. Donovan has been the Thunder coach since 2015 and has bolstered a 243-157 regular-season record. Donovan’s teams have never missed the playoffs, although they only advanced past the first round one time, his first season with the team. Donovan took the Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook led team to the WCF where after being up 3-1 on the Golden State Warriors, they eventually gave up three straight games and lost the series.
Also it should be noted that none of Donovan’s team has had a losing record in his 5 season in OKC.
What has Donovan done?
Billy Donovan was an incredible college coach, winning back to back championships at the University of Florida. In fact he won both championships with now 76ers big man Al Horford. However, I am a big believer that the college game and NBA is way too different, especially when it comes to game-planning for a 7 game series. So personally, when I am reading and learning about potential coaches I don’t really dive into their college achievements if they have NBA experience.
That being said, in my opinion, Donovan’s NBA career doesn’t jump off the page. Winning regular-season games is great, but for me, the playoffs are where coaches really earn their keep. Donovan has had the luxury of coaching guys like Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Paul George, and Chris Paul and only made it out of the first round once. And blowing a 3-1 lead in a series is a tough pill to swallow, but it was against one of the greatest teams ever so it’s understandable somewhat.
This last season is probably Donovan’s best part of his resume. The team traded stars Paul George and Russell Westbrook for Chris Paul, picks, and young talent in what seemed to be an attempt to start a rebuild. Donovan and the team had a different idea, and he helped guide the team to a 5th seed finish, one that is believed to be a complete overachievement. This, plus Donovan’s unwillingness to coach a rebuild, is more than likely what led to the two parties splitting up.
Obviously, I have been very bullish on Tyronn Lue, and still am. Ty, for various reasons, would be my first choice. However, the emergence of Donovan, who The Athletic’s Sam Amick has linked to the 76ers job, changes the dynamic. Here now you have a seasoned coach, who has experienced regular NBA season success, and some minor success early on in the playoffs rather than assistant coaches with little to no experience to look at when it comes to being a head coach. That alone should make Donovan a candidate for the job, considering the Sixers should be looking for an established coach to “get them over the hump”. My opinion is that Donovan is not that coach, outside of one year with Kevin Durant and Westbrook, there have been no signs that he can win a playoff series even with the pairing of superstars Paul George and Russel Westbrook. Not being able to get out the first round of the playoffs is a red flag for me, and something we could have just kept Brett Brown to do.
That isn’t the end all be all, and at the end of the day from outside looking in it is hard to really know what a coach brings to the table. There are so many factors in play throughout the season and playoffs that either help or hurt a head coach. Also, info on Donovan, when it comes to x and o’s, was hard to come by. In my opinion, if I had the choice between Ty Lue and Billy Donovan, I am going with Lue. I also believe that Lue would be interested in the job, but if for some reason Lue isn’t interested Donovan could fill in, especially with his experience. Although I’d still shy away, nothing about Donovan’s career really jumps off the page for me. If Lue isn’t interested I’d much rather look at a guy like Sam Cassell, although unproven, than Billy Donovan.
Note: Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN also linked Donovan’s name to the Chicago Bulls head coaching vacancy.