This week's spotlight is on Thunder Head Coach, Billy Donovan. As most Thunder fans will know, Coach Donovan was brought to Oklahoma City a little over a year ago when general manager Sam Presti made the decision to fire Scott Brooks. Donovan, who spent nearly 20 years coaching at the University of Florida, had his wits put to the test during his first season coaching in the NBA with Kevin Durant's free agency looming and losing two of his top assistants during the course of the season. Assistant Coach Monty Williams left in February when his wife, Ingrid, died in a tragic car accident. Donovan was also faced with the loss of Assistant Coach Mo Cheeks, who was absent for six weeks in the later portion of the season due to extensive hip-replacement surgery.
This season, things don't seem to be getting any easier for Coach Donovan, as he starts the season without star players like Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and Dion Waiters, who have been replaced with raw, unproven talent. However, Donovan has the uncanny ability to rebuild a roster that few NBA coaches have. While coaching at the University of Florida, Donovan was no stranger to losing talent to the draft and having to start from scratch, year after year. This provides him with experience that will only serve the organization in regards to scouting and team-play.
With Russell Westbrook locked up through 2019, Donovan must evaluate other positions, such as center, with Steven Adams and Enes Kanter leading the way in the paint. Familiar faces such as Andre Roberson and league veteran Nick Collison are still here to ease the learning curve for Donovan. However, we can't underestimate the summer “roster-mania” that has occurred. Although a lot of proven talent has left, Donovan now has his chance to work with young players and develop them into the next generation of superstars. If he carefully crafts an effective squad using both proven talent and raw youth, Billy Donovan has not only the opportunity, but the repertoire to bring a championship to OKC.
Billy Donovan is no stranger to adversity. In fact, the reason he was brought to Florida was to rebuild their struggling basketball program. In his first two seasons, Donovan reworked his roster not only by relentlessly recruiting top talent from all over the country, but by working with what he inherited when he took the job. After building a rather formidable team, Billy Donovan lead the Gators to sixteen straight winning seasons, four visits to the Final Four, two NCAA championships, several conference championships and even snagged himself three SEC Coach of the Year awards.
Coach Donovan is familiar with the task of rebuilding a roster, and he still retains a decent amount of last year’s assets, such as Russell Westbrook and rising star center, Steven Adams. However, optimistic as they may be, Thunder fans must sensor their judgement of Donovan and his team’s early performances this season. He still has quite a project on his hands. For example, Cameron Payne was lost indefinitely after fracturing his right foot during a team scrimmage on September 27th. In his absence, rookie Semaj Christon has been inserted into the rotation to fill the void. Christon, the Thunders 2nd round pick in the 2012 NBA draft has a lot of ground to make up to fill Payne's role effectively. Additionally, after struggling in the first quarter in back-to-back season opening games, it is clear that Donovan has some tweaking to do with the starting rotation and substitutions.
While we all know that coaching in the NBA is a whole different beast than college, Donovan surely exceeded expectations for his first season. He brought the team to the playoffs and won his first series by defeating the Mavericks, then shocked a large portion of the basketball world with an astonishing 4-2 series victory over the San Antonio Spurs in the second round. Donovan didn't lose a series until he faced the record setting Golden State Warriors. I think anyone would agree that the coach had an impressive first season.
If Coach Donovan’s rookie results from last season are a gauge of what we can expect, then Thunder fans should be very excited about this season and beyond.
Hey there! I’m David-Scott, a new weekly columnist here at Welcome to Loud City, and I’ll be bringing you a weekly feature that spotlights a certain member of the Thunder organization – giving you performance briefs, background information, and details regarding how each of these people can help lead the Thunder to victory.