Conventional wisdom speaks often about how the NBA works. It isn't often that a NBA team hires a head coach straight from the college ranks without any NBA coaching experience. As was correctly reported earlier this week, it's even rarer that said coach succeeds, and even rarer still for a coach to be given a successful team like the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Oklahoma City Thunder General Manager Sam Presti went outside the conventional wisdom and much documented history when he decided to hired former New York Knick and Florida Gators Head Coach Billy Donovan as unofficially the 3rd head coach in 'Thunder' history.
Amidst the typical media-driven noise, a number of fallacies about this hire have emerged. Let me address a few of them here today.
The Billy Donovan is a "No Nonsense Coach" Fallacy
If I hear "Billy Donovan is a no nonsense coach" one more time I think I'm going to scream. Of course he was a "no nonsense" coach. In college. He was a multi-millionaire and reasonably successful boss telling broke college kids what to do. He held their futures in his hand and these student/athletes needed Donovan to be successful. If the player didn't buy what Donovan was selling, the player had two choices: Donovan's way or the highway. There was no middle ground, nor should there be.
The NBA is another story; here is a coach with ZERO NBA success walking into a situation where the three stars of the Oklahoma City Thunder are financially more successful than Donovan will ever be in the NBA. They are also far more accomplished as NBA players than Donovan was or ever coached. More importantly Serge Ibaka, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant don't need Donovan to be successful; they already are. Donovan can't hold their future in his hands; they hold his in theirs. That's a fine line Donovan will have to walk, and probably an unfamiliar one as well.
Billy Donovan is not "On the Clock" fallacy
The NBA is a 'win-now' league. With shortened player contracts and the constant push for parity, a coach may only have 2-3 seasons to make a big push towards a championship; in fact, the coaching adage is, "Every NBA coach is waiting to be fired." Donovan will face the same kind of pressure. In his introductory press conference, Sam Presti spoke at length about Donovan being the right fit for the long term, the implication being that he's not going to be on the hot seat during his inaugural season.
In case you didn't know, Kevin Durant is going to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2016 season. He may very well want to stay in Oklahoma City for his entire career, but he's a pro athlete and probably wants to win a championship. He will go wherever he thinks he has the best chance. When the Thunder is healthy they are the OBVIOUS choice, but they haven't been healthy since 2012. Athletes don't get healthier as they age either and I would like to think Durant is going to keep that in mind as well.
Westbrook and Ibaka will be unrestricted free agents in 2017. Within two years time the team many of us thought might be the next "dynasty" could very well be at the bottom of the West. Winning now may not prevent that from happening but at the very least should keep playing for the Thunder at the top of their list.
The moment Donovan signed his name to his contract, the countdown clock began.
The Brad Stevens Success Fallacy
Brad Stevens is the Celtics coach who just led his young team in Boston to the playoffs, only a year after they were supposedly in "rebuild mode." Stevens is also a former college coach (Butler) who had no prior NBA coaching experience. Is he the model for success for coaches who want to make the jump? I guess the starting point is how does one measure success? If taking any NBA team to the seventh seed and making the playoffs in the East is considered a success, than Stevens is the coach of the year. Unfortunately this is a fallacy. Many (especially Thunder fans) consider the Eastern Conference a joke, so it's amusing watching folks employ this fallacy.
The reality is that we don't know if Brad Stevens is a good coach or not. Nothing really was expected of him. He walked into a situation of rebuilding, the superstars were traded, and what he had left is a team that is willing to listen to him. The Celtics made the playoffs, played a competitive series with Cleveland, and were bounced in four straight.
Billy Donovan isn't entering anything close to the type of situation Stevens walked into. He inherits a team that when healthy should be a championship contender. PLENTY is and SHOULD be expected of him.
There are other challenges he will face and next time we'll take a look at a few more.