Billy Donovan will not return to the Oklahoma City Thunder next season, the team announced Tuesday night. Donovan’s contract as coach of the Thunder expired after the 2019-20 season, and the two sides have decided not to pursue an extension.
The Thunder hired Donovan away from the University of Florida in 2015 after moving on from Scott Brooks. He led them to within one game of the 2016 NBA Finals, but after Kevin Durant left that summer, the team was forced to take a step back. They jumped back into contention with the acquisition of Paul George, but after he and Russell Westbrook were traded this offseason, the Thunder were destined for a rebuild.
That rebuild did not come immediately, however, as Donovan took the team of spare parts Oklahoma City gave him and led the Thunder into the playoffs as a surprising No. 5 seed. They pushed the Rockets to seven games in the first round despite sending Westbrook, their former MVP, to Houston during the offseason. Donovan finished in third place for Coach of the Year for his efforts.
But Chris Paul, the centerpiece of their incredible season, is 35-years-old and on a max contract that doesn’t fit into Oklahoma City’s long-term plans. He will be a valuable trade piece, and the team’s likely pivot into a rebuild was a factor in Donovan’s exit, according to Wojnarowski. The split was extremely amicable, and now, Donovan will be a candidate for other open jobs around the NBA. The Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers and New Orleans Pelicans all have openings right now, and though the Rockets have expressed a desire to retain Mike D’Antoni, it should be noted that his deal expires after the season as well. He could also return to the college game where he made his name.
Donovan, who resisted overtures from NBA teams for years after reneging on an agreement to coach the Orlando Magic, joined the Thunder expecting to coach a contender. He did so both when it was expected and when it was not. But now he and the team appear to be moving in different directions. The Thunder now have a very desirable opening, and Donovan will become among the most accomplished coaches on the market.