Source: Thunder, Florida’s Donovan in talks about coaching vacancy

  • Associated Press
  • Wednesday, April 29, 2015 9:56pm
  • SportsSports

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Billy Donovan is entertaining a move to the NBA again.

This time with the Oklahoma City Thunder, a person familiar with the search said.

Eight years after leaving Florida to coach the Orlando Magic and then changing his mind the following day, he appears poised to make the jump and not look back this time.

Donovan spent Wednesday in talks with the Thunder about their coaching vacancy, the person told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because details of the search have not been released.

The person said Donovan and Thunder general manager Sam Presti have spoken repeatedly about the job, which came open when Scott Brooks was fired last week, but that there is “still big-picture stuff” to work out before contract negotiations could begin.

Donovan did not respond to text messages or a phone call from the AP seeking comment Wednesday.

Yahoo Sports reported Donovan is “enthusiastic” about the possibility of coaching the Thunder and is seeking an annual salary around $6 million.

Donovan signed a one-year contract extension with Florida in December that pays him an average salary of $4 million through 2020. The buyout on the contract is $500,000.

The coach has strong ties to the Oklahoma City franchise. Former Florida assistant Mark Daigneault was hired as Oklahoma City’s D-League coach last year, while former Florida video coordinator Oliver Winterbone is a scout with the Thunder. Presti and Donovan have a long relationship, and Presti reportedly spent time visiting Donovan in February.

Donovan, who will turn 50 next month, has spent the last 19 years in Gainesville. He led the Gators to two national championship, four Final Fours, seven Elite Eights and 14 NCAA Tournament berths. He has always maintained an interest in the NBA, even saying last year that basketball’s elite level intrigues him because of the ability to coach and teach daily.

Last season was a down year by Donovan’s standards. Florida finished 16-17 and missed the postseason for the first time since 1997. Three players have already left the program in what many believed was a house cleaning.

Donovan also hired former Alabama coach Anthony Grant as an assistant, reuniting Donovan, Grant and John Pelphrey — the trio that made hoops relevant in Gainesville.

It’s unclear if Grant and Pelphrey would follow Donovan to the NBA.

This much is certain: with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in the fold, Oklahoma City is one of the NBA’s premier coaching jobs.

Brooks was 338-207 (.620) in seven seasons with the Thunder and was the 2009-10 NBA Coach of the Year. Starting in 2010-11, he led the team to the Western Conference finals three out of four years, and the franchise reached the NBA Finals in 2012.

This season, a broken right foot limited Durant to 27 games and right knee surgery kept defensive stalwart Serge Ibaka out for the final month of the season. Westbrook won the scoring title and posted 11 triple-doubles, but the Thunder were knocked out of the playoff race on the final night of the regular season.

Presti praised Brooks’ effort and said his decision was not based on this season’s performance. Presti said he knows he’s taking a chance by replacing Brooks a year before Durant can become a free agent, but he felt the franchise could regress if a change wasn’t made.

Durant and Ibaka are expected to be ready next season, and the Thunder should again be among the favorites to contend for the title.

The next day or so could reveal whether Donovan will be coaching them.

Donovan has strong ties to Gainesville, which is what kept him from keeping the Magic job in 2007. Donovan’s two oldest children are out of high school — his son had been a walk-on at Florida — but his youngest son is in his junior year of high school and youngest daughter is in eighth grade. Donovan also was instrumental in helping build St. Francis Catholic High School in Gainesville.

Donovan talked with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Cleveland Cavaliers about openings last season, but decided to stay at Florida.

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