OKLAHOMA CITY – The Thunder hired Florida’s Billy Donovan as their coach Thursday, hoping he will help the franchise win an NBA championship in Oklahoma City.
“We warmly welcome Billy and his family to Oklahoma City,” team chairman Clayton Bennett said. “He is the perfect fit for our organization and for our community, and we look forward to a long and successful relationship.”
The 49-year-old Donovan led Florida to two national championships, four Final Fours, seven Elite Eights and 14 NCAA Tournament berths in 19 years. He signed a one-year contract extension with the Gators in December that would have paid him an average salary of $4 million through 2020.
But, eight years after leaving Florida to coach the Orlando Magic and then changing his mind the following day, Donovan is back in the NBA. It’s not likely he’ll head back to Gainesville this time — he inherits 2013-14 MVP Kevin Durant and 2014-15 scoring champion Russell Westbrook.
“I am honored and humbled to be named the head coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder,” Donovan said. “I knew that it would take a unique opportunity to leave the University of Florida, and that is clearly how I look at this situation.”
Donovan replaces Scott Brooks, who was fired last week.
The pressure will be on Donovan immediately. Brooks went 338-207 (.620) in seven seasons with the Thunder and was the 2009-10 NBA Coach of the Year. Starting in 2010-11, he led the team to the Western Conference finals three out of four years, and the franchise reached the NBA Finals in 2012.
This season, a broken right foot limited Durant to 27 games and right knee surgery kept Ibaka out for the final month of the season. Westbrook posted nine triple-doubles after the All-Star break while trying to salvage the season, but the Thunder were knocked out of the playoff race on the final night of the regular season. Durant, Westbrook and defensive stalwart Serge Ibaka spoke highly of Brooks during exit interviews.
Now, Donovan will have to prove he can coach at the NBA level, win over the fans, make Durant comfortable enough to re-sign instead of testing free agency and help a franchise that moved from Seattle to Oklahoma City for the 2008-09 season.