Before the 2020 season, the Thunder were considered an utter mess. The Thunder front office completely change the direction of the team, trading Paul George to the Clippers, and Russell Westbrook to the Rockets for Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and enough draft picks to compile a full roster that spans over the next four years. Many believed the Thunder had moved on from the “win-now” mentality they encompassed during the post Seattle Supersonics/Russell Westbrook-Era.
Flash forward to September 3rd, 2020. The Thunder are playing the Rockets in the playoffs. Series tied 3-3. The front court trio of CP3, SGA, and Dennis Schroder have continued their bubble excellence, but not enough to propel their squad above the Rockets. Although James Harden shoots awfully in Game 7, the Thunder lose 102-104.
This season is a success. The Thunder were the fifth seed and had been just five games behind the two-seed Clippers in the Conference Standings. Chris Paul, who was viewed as regressing, was a top five point guard in the league. SGA had a breakout season. Danilo Galinari and Steven Adams produced consistent output. Billy Donovan lead a completely-rebuilt Thunder roster to the playoffs, making Donovan the third-place finisher in the AP Coach of the Year voting. NBA Analysts and Fans see nothing but promise from the Thunder.
SEPTEMBER 8TH, 2020: BILLY DONOVAN OUT FROM THE HEAD COACHING JOB FOR THE OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER.
What happened? One may assume that a 243-157 coaching record would be satisfactory. However, Billy Donovan’s performance as the Thunder coach was rather underwhelming. After departing Florida University (where he had won two national championships), Donovan was expected to bring a championship to OKC. He was given Russell Westbrook, who had averaged a triple-double during Donovan’s tenure, as well as a second all-star in Paul George and defensive beast Steven Adams. Despite having a top-tier big three, the Thunder accumulated little playoff success, creating frustration among the Thunder fanbase. With Donovan at the helm, the Thunder were plateauing as they never reached more than 50 wins in a season as well as consistently being a sub-top-three team in the Western Conference.
The Thunder are extremely young. Sure, Paul and Gallinari are seasoned veterans. However, the majority of the roster is below the age of 28. Steven Adams is 27. Dennis Schroder is 26. An emerging trio in Darius Bazley, Luguentz Dort, and SGA are 20, 21, and 22 years of age respectively. Hamidou Diallo is 22. With a rebuilding squad that has an abundance of draft picks, the team is shifting towards a new generation of talent. With that, teams almost always tend to move on from their coach, no matter how dominant they may be.
What Is Next For Both Parties?
Billy Donovan is almost guaranteed to find another head coaching job in the NBA. The 76ers, who recently fired Brett Brown, seem to be frontrunners to getting Donovan. Al Horford won two championships with Donovan, and with the dysfunctional roster that the 76ers have, Donovan would be a perfect fit. If Donovan somehow does not manage to get a head coaching job, colleges would hire him in a heartbeat. Donovan’s coaching days are far from over.
The Thunder become yet another playoff team in the market of a head coach. While the team is a small-market, which usually would gain less appeal, the Thunder are an extremely promising squad that will pose a threat to the league for years to come. Kenny Atkinson, former Nets Head Coach, is an extremely talented player development coach who was able to construct a culture in Brooklyn that lured Kyrie and KD to sign there. Former Pacers Coach Nate McMillan has plenty of experience as a coach, who would be a prime candidate to successfully build the foundation of this Thunder team. While Billy Donovan is a spectacular coach, both parties are better off moving on.