Billy Donovan may soon have a decision to make, and it shouldn’t be difficult. While rumors during a coaching search should rarely be believed, there is a ton of smoke swirling around the possibility that Indiana is going hard at Donovan to become its next head basketball coach. And the former Florida Gators head man hasn’t helped things by not saying “no” when asked about the job.
If the rumors are true, the Oklahoma City Thunder head coach should bolt for Bloomington as fast as he possibly can.
This basically comes down to two points: why Donovan should leave Oklahoma City, and why he should go to Indiana. I’ll separate the two for you here and break each down.
Why Donovan should bolt from Oklahoma City
Donovan is in just his second season with the Thunder, after he was given a five-year, $30 million contract in April of 2015. Yeah, he’s making a lot of cash, but if that’s a concern, Indiana should have zero problem matching that salary. Now-departed Hoosiers coach Tom Crean was being paid more than $3 million a year and you can bet IU would scrap together enough to lure Donovan.
The Thunder brought Donovan in to get Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant over the hump in the Western Conference and finally bring a title to OKC. He gave it a great shot last year, but fell short in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors. Now Durant is gone, the Thunder have become the Westbrook Show, are in the sixth spot in the West, and could be in salary cap hell in short order. This is not the gig Donovan signed up for.
The Thunder have given massive deals to Victor Oladipo (four years, $84 million) and Steven Adams (four years, $104 million). I like both players, but both are complementary pieces. Meanwhile, Westbrook can opt out of his contract after next season. That happens to be right around the time his hometown Los Angeles Lakers’ young core should start being competitive. There is absolutely zero guarantee Russ stays with the Thunder and in its history, OKC has never once lured a top-level free agent.
So after next season Donovan could be stuck with a roster that doesn’t have Westbrook, where Oladipo and Adams are making more than $45 million combined, and Enes Kanter is taking home $18.6 million (if he opts in). Oh, and the team would be devoid of any true stars.
As it stands, no one thinks the Thunder can win a title as currently constructed. Especially coming out of a Western Conference dominated by the Warriors and San Antonio Spurs. Neither of those teams is going away any time soon, and Oklahoma City’s roster could get demonstrably worse after next season.
College basketball is starting to look a lot more attractive isn’t it?
Why he can’t pass on Indiana
Regardless of the results over the past 15 years, Indiana is definitely still an elite program. Given the resources, dedicated fanbase, facilities and everything else on the plate in Hoosier Nation, that is absolutely a top 10 job. It’s a blue blood that has just been down for a while. The right coach could take the program to unbelievable heights.
Like his mentor, Rick Pitino, it just feels like Donovan is eventually going back to the college ranks, and few programs could give him the support and resources Indiana can. None of the other jobs on that level look like they’ll be open any time soon. Kentucky, Louisville, North Carolina, Kansas and Duke all have coaches who plan on being there a while. If Donovan is going to go back to college, he may never get another chance like this.
Indiana boasts a fertile recruiting ground, the top recruiting budget in the Big Ten, a recently renovated arena with the nation’s largest student section and a gorgeous, state-of-the-art practice facility that is just a few years old. The school’s basketball program has everything it needs to succeed except an elite head coach.
Along with all of that, the security Donovan could get from a long-term deal with Indiana would far exceed that he’ll have in the NBA. NBA coaches are recycled every few years, while college guys are often given time to build their programs. Heck, Crean got nine years at Indiana and he never got past the Sweet 16.
Donovan would immediately achieve deity status in a basketball-mad state. A man who brought two national titles to Florida would be seen as the savior of Hoosier basketball. He’d be given as much time as he needed to get the program back to elite status.
Maybe Indiana isn’t actually pursuing Donovan and maybe he’s not even thinking about leaving Oklahoma City. All we have to go on are rumors at this point. But if Indiana athletic director Fred Glass calls with a fair money offer, Donovan would be a fool not to jump on it.