When a team’s expectations aren’t met or standards aren’t lived up to, the natural reaction from fans and media is to place blame on the head coach. Seldom does a head coach get the credit they deserve and often they’re held responsible for everything that might go wrong.
It’s a tale as old as sports itself.
Case and point: the two Thunder seasons prior to this one did not go according to plan with both ending in early playoff exits. Fingers were pointed all around the organization but mostly at the head man himself, Coach Billy Donovan. Going into this season with more questions than answers — and only one year remaining on his contract — the future looked murky for the former Rick Pitino protege.
There has never been any doubt in Donovan’s coaching ability; the lingering question was always how well-suited he is philosophically and schematically for NBA basketball. Donovan dominated the college landscape for nearly two decades before taking the reigns in Oklahoma City, stepping into a role where not only was the team established and successful but had two bonafide superstars and championship aspirations.
The pressure has been on Donovan since he set foot in OKC but seemed to subside this past fall when deep playoff runs stopped becoming an expectation. The status and future were unclear for Billy, who had been linked to several college jobs while the Thunder began a new chapter as an organization.
This season began like many pundits and talking heads predicted — the Thunder struggled out the gate and looked headed for a re-build. After many close losses and the team hovering below .500 six weeks into the 2019-20 campaign, something clicked for OKC that would turn their season around.
Donovan started to incorporate the three-guard closing rotation, putting Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Chris Paul, and Dennis Schroder on the floor together at the end of games. From that point on it seemed Coach Donovan was pushing all the right buttons and had something brewing on this Thunder team that hadn’t been seen in several years…chemistry!
The cohesiveness this Thunder squad enjoys should not only reflect the talent in the locker room but also the voice directing the group. Before the season started, OKC was projected to have the lowest win total since their inaugural season in the Sooner State.
Instead, when the NBA was suspended in March, the Thunder were 40-24 with 18 games remaining. The stoppage abruptly ended the franchise’s shot at the winningest season since Durant’s last year in 15-16. The team was rolling.
No one knows how the rest of the NBA season will play out when things pick back up in Orlando, but when the dust settles I fully expect Sam Presti to offer Coach Donovan a new contract, and hopefully, he accepts. Donovan and his staff have exceeded expectations twice over with the job they have done with this current group of players, and while the future of the roster might be heading towards a revamp (not rebuild), Donovan has earned the right to be the man steering the ship going forward.
Long gone are the days of “Fire Billy Donovan.”
It’s time to give credit where it’s due and extend the man.