Florida coach Billy Donovan doesn’t plan to offer any immediate comment on a report from Yahoo.com that labels him as a “serious candidate” for the Oklahoma City Thunder job.
Donovan and Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie are considered the top two candidates to replace Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks, who was fired Wednesday.
Donovan has ties with the Oklahoma City organization. Former UF assistant to the head coach Mark Daigneault was hired as Oklahoma City’s D-League coach last year, while former UF video coordinator Oliver Winterbone is a scout with the Thunder. Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti is reported to be fond on Donovan and visited UF in February, though it is not uncommon for NBA general managers to visit and observe Florida games and practices. Spurs GM R.C. Buford and Magic GM Rob Hennigan also made recent trips to Gainesville during this past basketball season.
Donovan, who will turn 50 next month, has led UF to two national titles, four Final Fours and 14 NCAA Tournament appearances in 19 seasons. He left UF briefly in 2007 to accept the head coaching position for the Orlando Magic, but six days later, had a change of heart and returned to rebuild a program that he led to back-to-back national titles in 2006 and 2007.
But Donovan has never completely shut the door on NBA coaching when asked, saying that he’s always had a level of intrigue coaching professionally because of the 24-7 nature of basketball at the pro level.
Oklahoma City poses an intriguing opportunity because the franchise recently appeared in the NBA Finals in 2012 and boasts two of the best players in the league — forward Kevin Durant and guard Russell Westbrook. But Durant missed most of the 2014-15 season due to foot injury and as a result, the Thunder missed the Western Conference playoffs despite a 45-37 record. Durant is in the final year of his contract next season and the Thunder are hopeful to find a coach that can build a rapport with him to ensure that he will sign a long-term extension. Whether Donovan would be that guy remains to be seen.
Ollie had a relationship with both Durant and Westbrook when he played with the Thunder, but on Wednesday issued a statement that he had no “plans” to “pursue” other opportunities and was happy at UConn. But as we’ve seen before, plans can sometimes change. ESPN.com college basketball reporter Jeff Goodman is reporting that Ollie would have interest in the job if “pursued” by the Thunder.
Donovan recently signed a one-year contract extension through 2020 that pays him an average salary of $4 million per season at UF. The contract has a relatively small $500,000 buyout. There is a one month window from March 1-April 1 in which Donovan could leave the contract without paying the buyout, but that obviously has passed.