OKLAHOMA CITY — Billy Donovan wasn’t high on the priority list of inquiries from media members who gathered for Sam Presti’s press conference last week. Understandably, other things were more paramount.
Still, Donovan’s name was brought up in three of the 13 questions hurled Presti’s way. The Thunder’s head coach is heading into the final year of his deal. While inconsistency has defined Donovan’s career thus far with the Thunder, no one expected the current situation for the fifth-year head coach.
Is there a future for Donovan with Oklahoma City after this season? Does Donovan find himself in a situation better suited for his coaching talents with a team more reliant on young players than in the past? These questions will be answered as the Thunder embark on their 2019-20 campaign, but Presti left little doubt that Donovan is the man moving forward for the foreseeable future.
Or did he?
“I think Billy has done a good job [as a player developer],” Presti said. “I think he’s going to have more opportunity to do that going forward with some of the new additions that we have.”
At the presser, Presti ran and hid from the word “rebuild” like it was an expiring trade exception. But make no mistake, the rebuild is coming. The question remains if Donovan will be a part of it.
What wasn’t addressed at Presti’s press conference was the promotion of four assistant coaches and the return of Brian Keefe, who previously coached with the franchise from 2008-2013. How do these hires influence Donovan’s position within the organization?
These hires can be viewed in a few different ways. You can see it as the Thunder simply having confidence in their system. There is also the pragmatic view that dictates the Thunder’s reliance on player development. But if you remember what Presti said during his draft press conference in late-June, you begin to ask further questions.
“He bounces names off me,” Presti said when asked about Donovan’s role in hiring assistants. “I might throw him a few to talk to or think about. We have some people internally that we’ll always look at that, as well. For the most part we’ve always been kind of on the same page.”
Donovan’s role in the hiring of these assistants becomes the question. Presti’s answers in June — before the Thunder’s short-term future was ruined by a Kawhi Leoanrd DM — gave the impression that OKC believes in their system so much so, that any hire — whether by Presti or Donovan — was of one mind.
But if your answer to the previous question is, “he played a minimal role — the hires were from the front office primarily,” then Donovan’s future beyond this year is nowhere near guaranteed, despite what Presti said last week.
Donovan’s future could be set in stone with OKC beyond his current deal. But the circumstances the Thunder find themselves in could influence change during or after the season. If that change is to come sooner rather than later, the Thunder would more than likely lean on the philosophy they used when hiring their new assistants and promote from within — Mark Daigneault for instance. But until that time, Donovan is the head man.
“Do I think his job gets easier? I think it’s an incredibly hard job no matter what,” Presti said last week. “Being a head coach is a tough job. But I think there’s different aspects of that. Every year presents different challenges, different opportunities, and I think he’s equipped to handle really all of them.”
Presti could very well have the confidence in Donovan as the man past this year. Donovan could have very well been completely on board with hiring assistants from within. It makes sense that the Thunder desire to have the same thoughts, ideas and voice from the front office down to their head coach while OKC plans to rebuild. Donovan can also flex his coaching muscles this season with an above-average roster and low expectations.
But there is also so much outside of Donovan’s control and influence: Chris Paul’s future, Danilo Gallinari’s future, injuries and other front office decisions. Perhaps the results at some point in the coming season may be too poor to fully invest in. We will have to wait to find out.
Brady Trantham has covered the Oklahoma City Thunder for The Franchise since April 2018 and for Thunder Digest since 2016. He hosts a Thunder podcast with Madysson Morris “OKC-82 Podcast” which can be found on all podcast outlets, and is a featured co-host on the Franchise Thunder Insider’s Show on Saturdays from 10-12, in addition to weekly guest spots on “The Franchise Drive” on Tuesdays and “The Franchise Morning Show” on Wednesdays. Follow him on Twitter @BradyDoesSports