Donovan Continues Work On Staff

By Randy Renner

As we predicted in this space last week the Thunder have indeed reached out to fired New Orleans Pelicans coach Monty Williams about being the lead assistant to new Thunder head coach Billy Donovan.

Williams was popular with the players in the Big Easy, especially center Anthony Davis, but apparently there was nothing easy about his relationship with the tangled management of the franchise.

Williams also already has a relationship with Thunder superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook from his time spent as a coach on Team USA.

Sources in New Orleans say Williams is interested but still wants to explore the possibility of another head coaching job, perhaps in Orlando or even Chicago if the Bulls fire Tom Thibodeau.

Yahoo! Sports is reporting the Thunder have also reached out to former OKC assistants Mo Cheeks, who left to become head coach in Detroit only to be fired before a full season had gone by, and Brian Keefe, who joined the staff of Derek Fisher in New York.

It still appears Donovan plans to hire Anthony Grant as an assistant. Grant was a longtime Donovan assistant at Florida and Marshall before going on to become head coach at VCU and then Alabama. It also appears Donovan would prefer to keep current Thunder assistants Mark Bryant and Darko Rajakovic on staff. 

Coaching Carousel Starts Spinning

By Randy Renner

Still nothing official from the Thunder but head coach Billy Donovan has apparently decided to bring at least one of his assistants from the University of Florida here to Oklahoma City and let go at least one of the assistants from Scott Brooks' staff.

Several reports over the last few days indicate Anthony Grant, the former head coach at Alabama and VCU and before those stops a long-time assistant for Donovan at both Florida and Marshall University, would be joining the Thunder staff.

Today, ESPN's Marc Stein is reporting Rex Kalamian, Brooks' lead assistant, will not be retained by Donovan.

That's a move that had been expected.

Kalamian is very much respected around the NBA and his name has come up the last couple of seasons for head coaching jobs. If he doesn't land one of those in the coming weeks, he would most likely re-join Brooks if the former Thunder head coach lands a head coaching job soon. He would also be a top candidate for lead assistant positions elsewhere. Robert Pack and Mike Terpstra, who were also assistants for Brooks, are also likely to be let go.

The other two coaches who worked under Brooks, Mark Bryant and Darko Rajokovich, are expected to be retained.

Donovan could also bring John Pelphrey, another of his assistants at Florida, to the Thunder. Pelphrey is a former head coach at Arkansas also worked as an assistant under OSU legend Eddie Sutton in Stillwater.

It's doubtful any of those men would be designated as "lead assistant," that position would likely go to another veteran NBA assistant or perhaps a former head coach like Mike Malone who was fired early this season by Sacramento despite receiving high praise from his players and the Kings making some obvious improvement. Another name that could get into the mix is former New Orleans Pelicans coach Monty Williams who was fired just this week.

Williams may also be a candidate for the head coaching job in Orlando but probably not Denver. If he doesn't land a head coaching job he would be highly sought after as an assistant.

Donovan and GM Sam Presti have been talking to staff and coaching candidates for about a week trying to put a staff in place. That task will probably take another week or two and could take longer depending on which candidates could also be involved in talks with other teams.

 

 

 

Trouble In Thunderland? We May Never Know

By Randy Renner

A guy I've never heard of tweeted that Thunder superstar point guard Russell Westbrook is not a happy camper in Thunderland these days.

Justin Termine is the guy's name and I've never heard of him mostly because I don't listen to satellite radio I guess. He does a show based out of New York City and yesterday he tweeted this:

"Sources: Thunder consulted w/Durant on hiring of Donovan but not Westbrook...This has Westbrook upset with organization."

Immediately the "Twitterverse" was on fire and if there's any truth to the tweet Westbrook was disrespected by his Thunder bosses.

Not knowing Justin Termine nor his sources, it's impossible to know how accurate, or not, that information is.

Thunder GM Sam Presti  told reporters during his news conference a few hours after firing Scott Brooks that he had not spoken with any players before making the move. In an email exchange with The Oklahoman last night Presti was asked about the tweet and about Westbrook's feelings toward the organization.

This is the response he gave the paper.

"As I have stated before, I do not feel it is in the best interest of the guys, or team collectively, if we were to poll our players in regards to specific personnel or staff decisions. However, we have spent a significant amount of time over the last seven-plus seasons discussing, observing and defining our culture with our players, which we feel is important given their role in building the identity for the Thunder. One aspect of this recent process was to have specific conversations with several core members of the program, including Kevin and Russell, regarding important qualities that should be considered in looking for our next head coach. Fortunately, our continuity and communication over the years in combination with our more recent discussions gave us an understanding that there is an alignment with regards to the qualities that we felt were important to our progression and evolution. Multiple people within the organization have been in contact with Russ and he will be in town later this week to meet with the staff."

Westbrook will get a chance then to sit down with Billy Donovan and Presti and iron out any differences they might have. However, Presti also said Westbrook will represent the Thunder during this month's NBA Draft Lottery drawing so it would seem Russ doesn't have any serious problems with the organization.

Westbrook has not commented publically about any of this, so it's impossible to gauge what his true feelings are. We don't know if he'll be made available to reporters after his face-to-face visit with Donovan and Presti.

I'd be shocked if the Thunder actually consulted with Durant specifically about Donovan and didn't say a word to Russ. Doesn't sound like a sound way to do business. If you're going to talk with one, you probably better talk to the other and if you're going to talk with them you probably better add in guys like Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison too.

Presti says none of that happened. The Thunder GM can dance around questions with the best of them and answer something without really saying anything. But I don't remember him ever being caught in a bald-faced lie.

My guess is, once the players have a chance to sit down and get to know Billy Donovan everything will be fine, at least till the start of training camp when whatever words were spoken in May will show themselves as true or not come practice time in October.

Donovan Wins The News Conference, Now Real Work Begins

By Randy Renner

With Thunder superstar Kevin Durant intently watching and listening, new Thunder head coach Billy Donovan laid out his philosophies and plans for the future of the Thunder. He seemed pretty much as billed, poised, precise and passionate.

Donovan said he was most struck by the Thunder's deep involvement in the Oklahoma City community and Donovan is diving right in, attending a function at the OKC Boys and Girls Club after going through about an hour's worth of interviews at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

He said his family is on board with the move and that he plans to live in OKC full time. His offensive philosophies revolved around ball movement, making the extra pass and making things easier for players to do what they need to do.

As far as immediately getting back to recruiting with Durant's free agency looming, Donovan said he wants to get to know KD as a person and Russell Westbrook too and all the rest of the guys on the roster.

"It's not about me," he said more than once, "it's about the players and what I can do to help them out and make them better."

He knows what he's getting into, that expectations are sky high and he embraces the challenge.

"I'm excited, there is a level of the unknown sure but right now I'm excited about impacting a lot of people in a very positive way. We have to take care of today, there's a process to go through."

Donovan and his family will return to Florida for the weekend and then Donovan said he hopes to be back in Oklahoma City early next week to begin meeting as many players as he can and talking with them in-depth and then making decisions on who will be on his coaching staff, "we will try to hire the best staff we can." He didn't commit to bringing anyone with him from Florida, nor did he commit to keeping anyone currently on staff.

At first glance Billy Donovan seems to be just what the Thunder need. But first impressions from us really don't matter. It's about what happens along the way, getting all the players to buy in, having success during the regular season and the playoffs and making sure Durant and Westbrook are excited and enthused enough to stay in Oklahoma City long-term.

Those answers won't come for a while, but at least for now everyone seems ready to give the new guy every chance and get things rolling toward the future.

Thunder Officially Announce Billy Donovan As New Head Coach

The Thunder have made official what most folks have known for a few hours now. But the official release does add quotes from Sam Presti, Clay Bennett and Billy Donovan. So we thought we would post the official press release in its entirety.

The Oklahoma City Thunder named Billy Donovan the team’s new head coach, it was announced today by Executive Vice President and General Manager Sam Presti. Per team policy, terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Donovan becomes the third head coach in Thunder history after spending the past 19 years at the University of Florida where he led the Gators to two National Championships and four trips to the Final Four while amassing a record of 467-186 (.715).

“We are thrilled to welcome Billy and his family to the Oklahoma City Thunder organization. When we began the process of identifying the next head coach of the Thunder, we started with a vision and the identifiable qualities that we felt were necessary for our organization as well as the ever evolving role of the head coach in today's NBA. We wanted to identify a person with the traits associated with high achieving leaders in their respective fields; a continuous learning mentality, the ability to adapt, evolve and innovate, intrinsically motivated, humility, and great tactical competence,” Presti said. “While we created a comprehensive analysis regarding the qualities we were looking for, it became quite evident that Billy was the ideal fit for the Thunder as we look to transition our team into the future. Billy has achieved an incredible level of success and experience within his 21 years as a head coach and has shown the unique ability to not only create but sustain an elite program. His emotional intelligence, commitment to the concept of team, and relentless approach to incremental improvement have allowed him to bring his players together and establish lasting relationships through competitive success. Billy's core values and alignment with our culture and community, as well as his proven tactical abilities, make him an ideal addition to the Thunder organization.” ‎

Billy's core values and alignment with our culture and community, as well as his proven tactical abilities, make him an ideal addition to the Thunder organization.

During his tenure at Florida, Donovan led the program to 16 straight 20-win seasons, three 30-win seasons, 17 consecutive trips to the postseason and six SEC Championships. Under Donovan, Florida has advanced to the Elite Eight in six of the past 10 seasons.

“We warmly welcome Billy and his family to Oklahoma City,” said Clayton I. Bennett, Thunder Chairman. “He is the perfect fit for our organization and for our community and we look forward to a long and successful relationship.”

After winning back-to-back national championships (2006 and 2007), Donovan led Florida to 18 straight postseason wins, the longest run for any program since John Wooden led UCLA to 28 straight postseason wins. This past season, Donovan became the second youngest coach in NCAA history (Bob Knight) to claim 500 career wins.

“I am honored and humbled to be named the head coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder. I knew that it would take a unique opportunity to leave the University of Florida and that is clearly how I look at this situation,” said Billy Donovan, Thunder Head Coach. “The Thunder represents so many of the values that I embrace as a head coach; the commitment to the team above oneself, the dedicated pursuit of excellence, the commitment to organizational culture, the identity they have established and the fact that the Thunder and the community are so intricately woven into the fabric of one another. To have the ability to work with such a talented and high character group of players is also rare, and I am excited to forge ahead creating those relationships. It is of course bittersweet as the University of Florida will always hold a very special place in my heart and in my family's. I've had the good fortune of working with the best athletic director in the country in Jeremy Foley over the last 19 years, and I'll be forever grateful and thankful for the opportunity and his friendship. Countless players, students, and other people in the administration were responsible for our success and for the meaningful connection we had with the Gainesville community. I have a deep appreciation for what the University of Florida will always mean to me and I'll forever be a Gator.”

Donavan has been the recipient of numerous collegiate coaching awards including ESPN.com’s National Coach of the Year (2001), the Wooden Award’s “Legends of Coaching” Honor (2010) and SEC Coach of the Year (2011, 2013, 2014).

In addition to his responsibilities at Florida, Donovan has served as head coach of USA Basketball’s U18 and U19 National Teams in each of the last three summers. As a head coach with USAB, Donavan’s teams have captured three gold medals while going a perfect 19-0 during national team competition. Prior to leading the 2014 FIBA Americas U18 Team to the gold medal last summer in Colorado Springs, CO, Donovan guided the 2013 USA U19 World Championship Team to a perfect 9-0 record and the gold medal in Prague, Czech Republic and the 2012 USA U18 National Team to a 5-0 slate and gold in Sao Sebastiáo do Paraiso, Brazil.

Donovan’s coaching experience dates back to the 1989-90 season where he served as a graduate assistant coach at Kentucky. After five years with the Wildcats, Donovan was hired as head coach at Marshall where he spent two years before leaving for Florida.

Prior to joining the coaching ranks, Donovan enjoyed a four-year playing career at Providence where he helped lead the Friars to their best season in school history and a trip to the Final Four in 1987. In addition, Donovan appeared in 44 games as a member of the New York Knicks during the 1987-88 season.

As you can see the team did not mention an introductory news conference but one is expected to be held probably sometime tomorrow.