Oklahoma city Thunder coach Billy Donovan sat down with Adrian Wojnarowski on Yahoo’s The Vertical Podcast to give his first interview of since Kevin Durant signed with the Golden State Warriors.
Donovan didn’t spend a whole lot of time talking about Kevin Durant, preferring to look towards the future rather than dwell on the past. He did admit that he wasn’t necessarily confident KD would return, however:
“I don’t know if I ever felt like he was going to necessarily come back, but I thought our meeting went very, very well. I think Kevin on the front end was very, very, honest that when the season ended, he was going to go through this process and he was going to take a meeting with us, obviously, first. And then he was going to have some other teams he was going to meet with. And I think a little bit later on, after the season ended, they decided to do it out in The Hamptons. But I thought the meeting that we had went very well. I think we talked about basketball, we talked about our team, we talked about direction, we talked about obviously his leadership, his role, all those kind of things.”
The pair quickly moved on to talking about Russell Westbrook. Donovan lauded his all-star point guard, who’s locked up for at least one additional season:
“The first thing about Russell, being around him, is he wants to win at the highest level,” Donovan said. “I think the second thing about him is amazing, being around him he’s extremely bright and he’s smart and he’s got a great feel. And the third thing is he’s very, very well prepared. I think a lot of times what people can look to or point to is when you have Serge leaving and obviously Kevin leaving is this idea that maybe Russell now takes over more, and I think that he really understands that he’s got to make everybody around him better.
Donovan also detailed what his coaching philosophy will be next season regarding Westbrook:
“I think from a style-of-play standpoint, we’ve got to maximize the people around him inside of a system where they can be effective, productive and they can help. I think if you go back — and I think it’s going to be totally different for Russell, in my opinion, because I think if you go back two years ago when Serge was out and then Kevin missed those 50 games and they’re on the cusp of making the playoffs, I think at that point in time where when you set up a system and style of play and everything’s geared towards Kevin Durant and Serge, and they’re such big priorities for you offensively and now they’re not there, well, you’re not going to be able to just plug somebody in Kevin’s role, Serge’s role and they’re going to be able to just fill in that late in the season. For Russell, he tried to put the team on his back and say, ‘OK, I’ve got to get us to the playoffs.’ I think because we’re starting out without those players available, we’ve got some time to evolve and develop, I think, a style of play and a system, and certainly he’s going to be the catalyst and the key to it.”
Donovan also went on to mention that he expects another quantum leap from both Steven Adams and Enes Kanter.
Finally, Billy Donovan spoke at length about how current Lousville head coach Rick Pitino changed his life. He was an out of shape guard at Providence, looking to transfer because he was unhappy there. Pitino told him that if he stuck around, it would be the “the greatest experience of [Donovan’s] life.” It paid off: Pitino and Donovan’s scrappy squad made the Final Four in 1987. After a stint playing professionally (although not in the NBA), Donovan ended up working on Wall Street. He was deeply unhappy, not quite cut out for his job. Pitino offered him a graduate assistant at Kentucky, and the rest is history: from a 28-year-old head coach at Marshall, to winning two titles at Florida, and finally on to Oklahoma City.